INTERVIEW: Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey Speaks on the Art Scene in Ghana & His Contemporary Artwork
Meet Serge Attukwei Clottey, a fine Ghanaian contemporary artist. His installations & works reaches beyond the shores of Ghana and his down-to-earth personality makes his work even more earthy with a deep resonating message.
A brilliant and influential artist in Ghana, Attukwei has created his own art niche of using reclaimed and recycled materials from our environment. Think of thrown-out car tyres, yellow ‘Kuffour’ gallons, lorry tires, jute sacks, wood pieces, etc. He brings these often disregarded pieces together, shapes them and uses them to create political and social art messages.
I met Attukwei at his studio, which is part of his family house in the Labadi Township.
He shares his story of how he started out as an artist, the art scene in Ghana, overcoming challenges as an artist in Ghana to becoming an internationally recognized Ghanaian artist in key art circles.
When did you get started in art?
At birth. I inherited my father’s genes as he is an artist as well. So its been since birth. I grew up with my Dad and I studied all the painting work he did before I went to Art College at Ghanatta. Before I went to college I already knew how to draw and paint but I didn’t know if it was going to be a career or just a hobby.So after 4 years of schooling at Ghanatta, I got a scholarship to continue my art education in Brazil.
Yes, at that time it was unusual especially for a Ghanaian to go all the way there to study. I was there in 2006 for an intensive 3 months course. Brazil gave me a different approach to my work as an artist. So after I came to Ghana I decided to breakaway from the traditional artwork of painting into a more contemporary form. Contemporary art makes me develop new ideas and how to relate materials to history. It was a challenge for me back then as it was a novel form of artwork. None of the galleries in Ghana were interested in exhibiting them. So to make money, I would paint to sell and make money which I would use to work on my contemporary art. From the beginning it was more experimental. I have been working with the yellow ‘Kuffuor’ gallon plastics for more than 15years.
Yes it is. It served as a canvas piece on which I would paint on one side and then later paint on another side. Then later I would put them together like a giant mirror wall and paint on them like a giant puzzle. It was recently that I decided to cut them into pieces as I consume a lot during my work because of the volume. By cutting them up and still using them as a canvas piece I have been able to save space and at the same time produce something equally attention-grabbing.
What new thing are you creating with the gallons?
Well I realized some time ago that the top of the gallon looks like a mask so I am currently using these during performances. The idea came from how we often see people carrying these gallons to fetch water and many at times we don’t see their faces, just the yellow gallon. The gallon has become a mask behind which we hide our sorrow of poor access to water. It caught on easily as most people are able to relate to the use of these gallons.
The use of the plastic gallons is also to throw light on the migration of these gallons which are imported from Europe or America into Ghana as oil containers which eventually become water storage holders. After it’s been used as a water storage for a while it then ends up being an environmental hazard. This for me makes a political statement as it raises the issue of climate change and access to clean water.
I am also looking at how we can build houses out of these gallons. When you go into many homes, these gallons are literally part of the house décor occupying different areas of a house.
I see you have employed some youth in the area.
Yes. I have trained the youth in this area on my work process. My studio assistants now understand the process and materials of this artwork. They appreciate the message which is being communicated through the installations. Employing them is part of community development which I am passionate about. I also use the youth in my community as part of the stage and event performances.
How do you see the art scene in Ghana?
Art in Ghana is slowly gaining grounds. An artist like ElAnatsui who is based in Nigeria has created an atmosphere for Ghanaian artists to gain recognition. Another artist is Ibrahim Mahama who is one of the youngest artists in Ghana selected to participate in the exhibition, All The World's Futures - Biennale Arte 2015. Ghana has gained a lot of attention in terms of the art scene. Iam hoping the future will be better than before because we are breaking away from the traditional into more of contemporary and historical artwork.
Tell us more about the international exhibitions you have been at.
I had a solo exhibition in New York, Manhattan last year called ‘My Family History’. This stemmed from the first installation which we did on the beach area near the Artists Alliance Gallery. In New York, the exhibition was at the Feuer Mesler . I was also part of the Art Basel in Miami in 2015. I performed a show also in Hamburg last year. Interestingly and not surprisingly my work was more recognized and appreciated in Europe and the United States than in Ghana. There are more international shows coming up this year.