exhibition title: “when a stone cracks we don’t stitch.” -5 Oct 19
artist: larry amponsah
gallery: 50 Goldbourne
Went to Larry Amponsah’s latest exhibition at 50 Goldbourne on Saturday 5 Oct 2019. This exhibition covered works done in the past year which show considerable development in his artistic trajectory or his practice as he prefers to call it.
His command of visual language has increased remarkably. What we have now is beautiful, layered images suffused with a quality of light that is immersed and immersive. He has developed an approach to collage that is rooted in contemporary village life in his hometown. More on this later.
At an earlier exhibtion (see Young Guns,) he and I had a long chat about the importance of dialog with a critical African audience for developing artists and the risk that the artist receives no fully understood feedback from fellow critical Africans as to what he is doing – as if he lived in a vacuum- only appreciated by foreign critical eyes. For example, if one takes a Mozart opera there are so many steps that are only apparent to the musicians but which the musicians can respond to as if it were a private joke above the heads of the audience. That sense of connection between artist and critical audience has always been important but has felt threatened for African artists recently. This review will continue that dialog we started.
We shall look at three distinct images:
In your blood…
Between the images the colour palette is strongly contrasting. While the green represent growth, vitality and health, the dark brown have an indication of sadness and struggle. This move towards the monochrome is a form of shouting, of seeking attention. But it seeks attention not from the eye but from the mind. For the green as it vibrates out of the leaves and greenery of growth and the image of the earth mother bound within it it reflects renewal, nurturing and optimism. The title ‘Just Breathe..’ takes one towards the instructions of meditation – step aside from stress and confrontation and seek peace and renewal …just breathe.. For the brown it is a reflections of earthiness and struggle – where in “In Your blood ..’ the brownness echoes the timber of ships and the shape of the room echoes a ship’s cabin, and the image in blue of Elmina Castle is carefully contrasting (blue being discordant and so jumps out)…the image of Elmina Castle is cast in memory or the past but still affecting the present, whereas the travellers are playing chess a game of strategy that reflects the present issue of what strategy must Africa take. As Larry indicated to his audience the position of the chess pieces is carefully chosen so that the game is in progress as no one move could achieve checkmate ..this reflects the ongoing issue of struggle to achieve the correct strategy for Africa. Similarly the brown cast of ‘The Dreamer’ is important as this is to show not someone in the clouds ..where blue or sky references would be appropriate – but a dreamer against the present circumstances ..against the present struggles – against the present earth as it is – such that it reflects a dream as something that motivates one to continue struggling against the issues of the present ..the current earthiness reflected by the strong brown casts.
What is more important than the individual significations is the search for visual language rooted in his African origins. Larry has gone back to the contemporary lived experience of the people of his home town. This is a very important move, for this is not the Africa of the European imagination but the Africa of local people. In this context his use of collage is a technique drawn from the use of collage in the repository of calendars by the ordinary people which they use to document the past and reflect events both local and international – we have here an expansion of a contemporary local practice into the world of artistic endeavour, an affirmation of the lived life of the people ( as opposed to the dreadful naked dancing girls that often pass for African iconography). It is this move to rootedness that is the most important development in Larry’s art as it embeds a multitude of identities of past and present, of himself and his people, of himself and Africa, of himself and his times, of himself and his environment both physical and cultural.