SOAS University of London

Centre of African Studies

Owusu-Ankomah in Conversation

Owusu-Ankomah & Chris Spring

Date: 22 September 2014Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 22 September 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Seminar

In conjunction with his exhibition at October Gallery, Owusu-Ankomah will discuss his work and contemporary African art with Chris Spring (curator, Sainsbury African Galleries, British Museum)

Owusu-Ankomah was born in Sekondi, Ghana, in 1956, a year before independence from British colonial rule. He studied at Ghanatta College of Art, in Accra, before moving in 1986 to Bremen, Germany, where he now lives and works. His paintings depict a spiritual world of forms, without light or shadow, occupied by figures and symbols. The way in which these figures interact with the surrounding symbols in his paintings has moved through several distinct phases that reflect the artist’s own spiritual journey. His early work drew heavily on the ancient traditions of masquerade and African rock painting; then his figures shed their masks and body paintings to become boldly visible actors swimming in an ocean of signs.

In his most recent works, painted mainly in black and white, the figures, though still powerfully naked, are covered in complex symbols which, in a studied trompe l’oeil effect, render them almost invisible against a fixed backdrop grid composed of similarly painted signs. Slight dislocations of the visual field, suggesting an eye, head or leg, alert us to the hidden forms within, often delicately picked out by a thin red line of paint, and gradually revealing entire bodies. Influenced by the work of western artists such as Michelangelo, Rodin and Blake, Owusu-Ankomah integrates their insights with the encoded traditions of the Akan people of Ghana, whose wisdom is encapsulated in the adinkra symbol set, providing the underlying symbolic matrix for his work. Each adinkra glyph represents a particular concept or proverb, although his recent work has also seen the inclusion of symbols from other sources: Chinese characters, Japanese monsho, crop circle schemata, snowflake diagrams and a wealth of cyphers of his own invention. October Gallery’s exhibition, MICROCRON BEGINS, shows Owusu-Ankomah’s latest canvases, where these flourishing symbol-sets again transform to take on startling meta-symbolic implications of a new order.


Organiser: Centre of African Studies, University of London & October Gallery

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