Last night I attended the packed private view of a new art exhibition by renowned Ghanaian artist Owusu-Ankomah at the October Gallery in central London.
Owusu-Ankomah's paintings depict monumental human figures moving within an ocean of signs, and they make particular use of Ghanaian adinkra symbols. Adinkra symbols are like proverbs in visual form and were traditionally printed on fabric though they now find their way on to all sorts of other canvases - like the wrappers of Divine Chocolate bars!
There were speeches. The artist is a commanding man, and he began by looking round the room with a slight smile playing on his lips and telling us: "These works are magical... I am magical!"
Then cultural historian and film-maker Nana Oforiatta-Ayim talked to us engagingly about some of the meanings behind Owusu-Ankomah's work.
One striking theme is how his paintings often juxtapose the past and the present, or the traditional and modern. Owusu-Ankomah mixes adinkra symbols with visual signs of his own invention which often allude to modern scientific insights about the nature of reality. One of the adinkra symbols that crops up in his art is Sankofa, a bird that walks forward with its head facing backwards. It means "go back and pick up what you left behind", showing that in order to comprehend the present and move wisely into the future you must first understand the past.
Finally, the High Commissioner of Ghana officially opened the exhibition and extolled the virtues of Ghana, explaining to laughs and approval how their country has the best gold, the best cocoa, the best art ... and the best football!
You can go and look at the art yourself at the October Gallery over the next six weeks.
Owusu-Ankomah: Microcron – Kusum (Secret Signs – Hidden Meanings)
The October Gallery
15 September – 29 October 2011
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:30pm-5:30pm
Meanwhile, Trading Visions is collaborating with the October Gallery on a free professional development session for teachers on 4th October inspired by Owusu-Ankomah and chocolate.
Eat Your Own Art
4pm-6pm, Tuesday 4th October
Email [email protected] to book a place or phone 020 7242 7367.