This is something of an admission and perhaps you can all help me settle it in my mind once and for all. You see for a long time I have struggled to define myself as an artist of sorts. What best describes my art? I come across this issue every time I feel the need to update my artist statement. The thing is am I an African artist? I know I am an artist and I come from Africa (Ghana) but when we talk about African art does my art identify with what has commonly come to be known as ‘African’ art?
Even as I write I’m finding it difficult to describe exactly what I mean as African art has all kinds of definitions and I don’t really want to write an essay on the subject. There’s the tourist stuff; you know the women with long necks, spindly legs with babies on their backs and pots on their heads and then there are the portraits with tribal marks masses of beads around their necks and intricately braided hair. Wikipedia attempts a definition: the art of sub Saharan Africa but what exactly is that? Wikipedia does admit people often generalize traditional African art and that the continent is full of people, societies and civilizations each with a unique visual culture. One thing is certain that the art was of a utilitarian nature and involved the use of very bright colours with patterns of a rather abstract nature.
I am very attracted to extremely bright colours but I feel this is more of an expression rather than something that is inherently in my nature. I’ve always felt the strong bright colours and patterns found in my art were down to my African heritage and perhaps they are but I often wonder if this is a product of learned behaviour? Am I sub-consciously pandering to an expectation that this is what I should produce?
Ah, I get so confused and perhaps I am putting too much thought into it. I like to paint what I see in front of me and this ranges from a single flower, to an expansive panoramic landscape whilst picking up studies of people at work or children at play along the way. I am happy to make these studies wherever I am; in the UK where I live, my native Ghana or on holiday in the US or Morocco.
Does it matter? Perhaps it doesn’t. Not all my art is recognizably African and perhaps that’s because I try to avoid painting what I feel people expect to see from an ‘African’ artist. I don’t know that I do this consciously but when I do try to identify myself as an African artist I feel I don’t always meet the criteria I have as yet not been able to define.
For now, I am an African, I am an artist and I live in the UK. It doesn’t much matter in what order those three statements are made.