Owusu-Ankomah is a contemporary artist born in Sekondi, Ghana in 1956 - a year before independence from the British colonial rule. At the age of 28 he left his home in Ghana, and for almost a decade he embarked on a series of journeys across Europe, making contact with numerous European artists and galleries. Since 1986 Owusu-Ankomah has lived in the city of Bremen in Germany.
Owusu-Ankomah has had much international success with his work being exhibited throughout Germany as well as internationally in the US, South Africa, South America, Asia, the UK and numerous other counties in Europe. His paintings toy with the idea of scientific, technological, metaphysical and spiritual research and ideals. Each of his pieces grapple with an image of the spiritual world, without light and shadow, occupied by people and Adinkra symbolism.
We caught up with Owusu-Ankomah to talk about life in Germany, the evolution of the Microcron and the concept and need for an array of black identities within Europe.
MI: What is your earliest memory?
OA: I remember the presence of light from my childhood. Everything was brightly lit when I was a child. Everything, including people, seemed to have a special glow. My fasciation for light globes, spheres of light, circles, circles within circles grew from here. This early experience laid the foundation for the coinage of the word Microcron.
MI: How has living in Germany helped to shape your own identity?
OA: Germany has given me a sharper awareness of being African. Germany also gave me the opportunity to interact with many individuals from other countries, providing access to a kaleidoscope of multicultural modes of thought.
MI: There are a number of overtly political, racial and religious themes referenced in your paintings, which other narratives do you want the viewer to see or feel?
OA: What I explore in my work is our coming together. Our coming together is key to our survival as a species. The history of our civilization, up to the current status quo has been and is steeped in blood, deceit and lies. Most of our major religions have been used as tools for the hegemony of power. Ancient spiritual traditions have been so much diluted in their true teachings, that their original purpose has been lost. My purpose, and my mission is to review our story in relation and in the context of universal truth. My accomplishment will be to lead the viewer through the suggestive power of my artwork, out of the illusionary reality of separation purported by the ego, to the wakeful awareness of the self and as to who we truly are. The simple message embedded in my artwork is this: We can only come out of our socio-political, racial and religious quagmire if we will open our eyes to perceive the truth.
"There's a prejudiced German assumption of the black male, who possesses an enormous sexual appetite and has an exceptional sexual prowess"
MI: What is your perception of sexuality and black masculinities within Germany?
OA: I personally don't perceive any peculiar racial trait when it comes to gender. The "Super Black Masculine" never existed. However, we do all know that the African is exceptionally athletic and robust. There's a prejudiced German assumption of the black male, who possesses an enormous sexual appetite and has an exceptional sexual prowess, while having a low intellectual capacity. Since the advent of great African leaders like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Nana Akufo-Addo, perhaps the black male has been raised from the status of being a "super stud" to that of a Demigod? Ultimately, I suppose our racial differences are superficial, our common traits overwhelm our differences.
MI: I've posed this question to a number of creators through Artist Dialogues, but I would be interested to know your opinion on this. For a long time homogeneous, white creatives have dominated the contemporary and fine art scene within Europe; because of this, do you think that the black artist must now play a type of “role” to remain visible?
OA: The role of the African artist is to produce masterpieces, nothing less nothing more. The rest is left up to the managers of culture and of the arts. But the question is, do we have such movers and shakers on the continent? The answer is no. Firstly, a Contemporary Museum of African Art must be built in each capital city on the continent, housing highly competent experts, art historians and curators who work in association with their various governments, industries and the wealthy of the land, to fill these Museums with masterpieces. In 2017, we saw African art being auctioned for the very first time at Sotheby's London. The result for the whole auction sale was pitifully just over a million pounds. In 2017 a large painting by American graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was auctioned at Sotheby's New York for 110.5 million dollars. (Jean-Michel Basquiat was of African descent). Months later, a relatively small painting by renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci at Christies New York for 450 million dollars. It's as though the Western art world was saying, "this business with art has always belonged to us and still belongs to us".
MI: What advice would you give to emerging artists, whom are trying to navigate racial and cultural parameters in their niche?
OA: My advice to emerging artists is this; they should allow, let go, accept and continue no matter what the challenges may be. They must be authentic and original, against the norm. For the norm is institutionalized cultural management, and this cultural management is not their friend. They must be so much removed from the norm - revolutionary in their imagination, manifestations and statements. They should work with positive intent.
Artwork: Owusu-Ankomah courtesy of October Gallery
Words: Mag Ibiam