Ghanaian Artists Transforming The Art Industry in Ghana: Inside Scoop About Bright Ackwerh, Winner of The Kuenyehia Prize For Contemporary Ghanaian Art 2016.
Bright had just finished drawing the Million Man Riot mural when we met. On meeting him for the first time, one can easily jump to conclusion that he’s a ‘quiet' guy ( I mean seriously, doesnt he look like quiet? ) Aren't most artists? Choosing often to use their artwork to speak brazenly on walls, in every day objects, on huge canvases and of late through digital art forms on social to political subject matters.
The ‘quiet’ guy conclusion changed when we became friends on Facebook. I saw another ‘wild' and ‘charged' side of Bright Ackwerh. I sensed a lot of frustration emanating from his posts on how things are happening in Ghana and sometimes a quirky satirical side often displayed in his original and captivating story-telling caricature illustrations.
It was amusing to read the reactions of Ghanaians on most of his caricature works. Reactions were split between anger ( those unable to understand the story with a low tolerance for people who speak their minds about the realities of our society), hilarity ( those just got it and were more open-minded) to appreciation ( those who see good work and confess it as such).
So when That Artist Bright Ackwerh won the Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian Art, you can imagine the reactions on social media. Incredible! I am positive his haters couldn't even help but Like.
I caught up with the Accra Academy/KNUST Alumnus at the Alisa Hotel on my search to find out what triggers this young and brilliant contemporary Ghanaian artist.
I sat by the poolside for about 5 minutes when he showed up. He ambled to the table in his YoYoTinz t-shirt and signature wool cap which hid the mass of Kpenkpeshie hair.
O.Q - What inspired your work into caricature illustration?
B. A - A lot of factors actually. I discovered the work of some artists on the Internet which amazed and inspired me. Their presentation of it was what caught my eye not the concept though as these were commercial illustrators. I decided to acquire that skill to add to my repertoire. Basically that was it. Also learning and reading in school on contemporary art and how anything can be used and presented as art contributed to me deciding to move from creating for fun to taking it more seriously. People were reacting to the caricature illustration in a certain ‘way’ which was getting a lot of engagement on social media.
O. Q - Your Facebook posts. I sense a lot of frustration and sometimes anger. Are these emotions which are channeled into your work?
B.A - Yeah! A lot of the work I do are actually reactionary. For instance: its a way of expressing my opinion on a lot of things that are happening in Ghana at the moment. And you know there’s a lot of things in Ghana today that one can be angry or frustrated about. Because I don't have the power to go on the physical streets to demonstrate, I use my work. I also think that as an artist I owe it to the space which influences me. I think that is why you would find some of my posts as ‘ charged’ or heavy on the critiquing. A lot of the times I am just having fun.
O.Q - Eh? Are you sure?
B.A - Oh yeah. When I post up things, its just me being cynical so its not as serious as it may seem.
O. Q - Did you experience any form of rejection or negative kickbacks based on the caricature illustration technique?
B.A - OH YES! And I’m still experiencing it now. I don't want to mention names here. But the thing is many Ghanaians want to play it safe when it comes to airing their views about the state of the country. I think artists ask more questions than give solutions. Many people don't like that I ask questions. I have had instances where I have presented my work in some spaces such as exhibitions, discussions and even blogs but have been rejected. The reason often given is often due to the content. This however hasn't deterred me and my recent award just goes to show that I am doing something right.
O.Q - Which political character have you enjoyed drawing the most?
B.A - Hmm…maybe that would be the dishonourable Kennedy Agyapong. I got a lot of engagement after posting it on Facebook. This was shared at a time when there was a tussle between he and Afia Schwarzenegger and everyone wasasking him to stop the verbal fight. So the artwork portrayed them as lovers instead of fighting. You wouldn't believe the number of people who plagiarised the artwork. They either cut my name out, edit it with some sort of software and even published it in a newspaper without due credit. But i realise that some of these things comes with sharing your work on social media. Aside him I haven't drawn any Ghanaian politician.
O. Q - Oh but you have drawn some world leaders.
B.A - That’s true. I drew Kofi Annan who publicly advocated for the legalisation of cannabis. This is and its a move I totally support especially in Ghana. Hemp is very medicinal and has many uses for the hair, health benefits for the human body, etc. In Ghana, many people don't know what the constitution says about cannabis being illegal. If only they would research. I don't understand how some noodles and carbonated drinks are legal in Ghana when they are even more dangerous to our health.
O.Q - What do you think is the brand identity of Ghanaians
B.A - Recently, Abraham Attah went to the Oscars to present an award because he had featured in a film about war in Africa and he became a sensation for it. When he came back, the First Gentleman of the land said Abraham Attah has done well because had sold the Ghana brand to the world. So i presume the image of Africa or Ghana as a poverty stricken and war-torn country is the Ghana brand. This is something many people have decried. Africa and Ghana are always being portrayed negatively in movies. We don't always have to be slaves in movies or criminals or witches. We have the beautiful areas in Ghana like Alisa Hotel where people come to chill and enjoy. Romanticise it if you can. But basically, yes this is the brand identity of Ghana.
The prestigious award shone brightly in the late afternoon sun rays and I just had to remind him to not forget some of us when he's featured in the NewYork Times Art section.
The award was presented to him by El Anatsui - the famed Ghanaian sculptor who recently received the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award from at the 56th Venice Biennale was also made an Honorary Royal Academician as well as elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
"When El Anatsui called out my name I was stunned and when I went to receive my award, i instantly forgot my prepared speech. Me. Getting an award from El Anatsui? Wonders. Now I know how Abraham Attah felt!"
Be the first to see Bright Ackwerh's latest work (below) premiered here FIRST!
His latest work is titled The Son's Tears and forms part of his #veryverygraphic series. Can you figure out the story in this succint artpiece which at first startles and quickens your heartbeat when understanding reaches your heart and possibly your first reaction becomes...TF??
Please do share your comments below.. *away bus*