Sunday, March 1, 2020

Studio visit of contemporary Ghanaian artist Wisdom Kudowor......by Indian artist Manisha Vedpathak










I left Ghana(West Africa) in Dec, 2014. Never thought that I will ever visit Ghana again in my life. But since 2017 my husband kept visiting Ghana for his consultancy and here in 2020 I got a chance to open the pages of my life I spent in Ghana. I was excited to visit all those places I had been while in Ghana and recollect my memories. I stayed in Ghana for 14 years so Ghana was my second home and has a very special place in my heart. It has given me an identity of an artist. My first exhibition was held in Accra,Ghana. Ghanaian art and culture has a great influence on my art.
There are many people who write about their visit to Ghana but as an artist I wanted something else.  I wanted this visit to be memorable in an artistic way . I have always been intrigued by artists and their work-spaces so decided to visit Ghanaian artists in their studios and celebrate the creativity of Ghana. I was glad to have been able to visit some of the studios and chat with the artists with the help of some of my artist friends, Directors of Foundation of Contemporary Art, Ghana,  Ato Annan and Adwoa Amoah . Through this blog I intend to bring forth a few Ghanaian artists and then will continue to do studio visits of the artists from my hometown, Pune. I will look forward to meet some more Ghanaian artists in my next visit to Ghana .

                                                                 Wiz Kudowor with Ato Anan



During my 14years of  stay in Ghana I didn't get a chance to meet Ghana's most respected contemporary artist, Wisdom Kudowor, popularly known as Wiz in the artist community.  I was always very fascinated with his bold canvases and the Adinkra symbols and figures and faces used in his paintings. Wiz Kudowor has been exhibited in solo and group shows for almost 30 years with exhibitions in Africa, Europe, Asia and the U.S. His works are held in prominent public and private collections like the Ghana National Museum, the Ministry of Culture in the China, the Osaka Prefecture Contemporary Art Collection in Japan and the Africa-America Museum in Dellas, Texas, U.S. One of his widely known artworks is the public Relief Mural at the Kwame Nkrumah Museum in Accra, Ghana.
So when Co-Director of Foundation of Contemporary Art,Ghana and artist Ato Annan helped me to get an appointment to visit his studio I was very excited. His studio is in Dzorwulu, a part of Accra, capital of Ghana.
The informal chat with Mr Wiz Kuduwor was very interesting and inspiring for me as an artist. His approachability made it easy to ask him about his early days, his career as an artist and everything about art.

Thank you for giving us time to visit your studio.To start with we would like to know about you and your background.

I have been an artist all my life.From very early age I was drawing and painting. I grew up knowing that I would be an artist anyway. When in high school art was my main thing. I applied to College of Art, Kwame Nkumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi but my father wanted me to pursue something else. So when I got admission I packed my bag and left the house without informing my parents. Of course later on I informed them through letter. After college I came back to Accra to set up my work place but then realized that money was needed for that.So I entered into teaching. I After 6 years I decided that it was enough of teaching and need to practice art. I started with textiles , screen printing and designing for textiles.This was how I was self sufficient.

What type of designs were you making and do you still find those in your paintings?
Yes. They have not gone anywhere. i was printing large volumes of textiles and then I started making clothes . That's how I found line to generate income to establish myself as an artist.

Was there a point where you started seeing yourself as a fashion designer?
I was actually in the line. But then when I took commissions I was difficult to meet deadlines as I was only designing and had no control on those making the clothes so I decided to get back to my canvases.

Your journey was quite artistic. So when and where was your first exhibition?
My first solo show was in 1990 at Art Center, Accra. With no sponsorship and all the promotion work handled by me , it was a huge success. I also got commissions from it and that is how my journey actually started .

You are called trans-cultural visionary . Can you tell us about that?
That is the term people use to describe me. Everywhere I travel to, I try to see what is there which relates to the place where I come from. That's how I connect different cultures into my painting. I feel like I am a global person. But at the same time I don't want people to forget that I am an African. I am a human being first and humans are same all over the world.

Your works are modern but at the same time traditional. Symbols relate to tradition of Ghana.
It's where I come from. I can't loose my identity as Ghanaian but at the same time I try to look beyond that. The instance of using symbols was when Professor Glover came up with collection of Adinkra symbols. It makes a whole lot of sense with meanings they carry.Everywhere I go I try to see what all those symbols mean and how it relates to the ones we have here.






How did you develop your style of painting?
I don't really try to make it a style. It is me. Whatever comes out of me is this and people relate that to me.Sometimes I get a lot of criticism that I am not consistent. But there is a lot to explore in this world and as long as I explore genuinely I am true to my work. Whatever I do is for me, to express my self . I was defining myself along the lines after my first solo in 1990, but then I started travelling. That was the time when I was looking around seeing the world and thought what I was doing was restrictive. It started choking me out and I needed to free myself from it. I just went and expressed whatever came out of me and it started flowing. I have never looked back again.
There are lots of rollers and knives seen in your studio. Are these the only tools you use for painting?
I am a free spirit and freely explore any ideas that come to me. So when I wanted to achieve textures in my works , I decided to find different tools not restricting myself to brushes. Thats how I started using knives and rollers . I don't use brush at all.

How do you navigate the art world?
I am redesigning my website . I am active on Facebook and Instagram.

Are you influenced by other artists?
I have been inspired by works of some artist but yes never tried to work like them. Among'st my lecturers Ato Delaqui had a great impact on me. I use to work for him. I use to help him stretch canvases . I liked going to his workplace just to be with him and see how he works. Ibrahim El Salahi is one artist whose works I admire. But surely they have not defined me.

When you are in a certain form the references are looked for. Did you look for the influences outside of visual art? you have mentioned about textile. Did you bring your textile influences in your painting?
I love Ashanti region. While in college I frequently visited Ashanti region. Most of my inspiration came from there. Especially Adinkra fabric that are used there.

  Are you reading, listening to music or looking at particular thing to fuel your work?
Yes, music has always been a part of my journey. If I had not been an artist, I would have been a musician. But surely now I am in a comfortable place. I also read a lot.


Cultural ConfluenceHow will you describe the subject matter of your paintings?
It changes with time. Depends on where I am and a lot of other things. Lately it has to be about spirituality.Sometimes life pushes you to look closely to find yourself at different levels. I am now looking at closely. Presently that's where I am when we talk about the subject matter.

Can you share with us the process of your painting.
I don't like blank canvases. That is the most difficult fight I have with the canvas. Sometimes ideas come sketches and then I explore it. Most of the time I go to canvas directly. Though I do have the thing in my subconscious mind. So I will say that even if the work is a spontaneous work it still comes from your subconscious mind.I find it more exciting to work in that angle.


Folklore, Tree of Wisdom

Do you work on multiple canvases at the same time?
I use to but lately I don't as not much space in the studio now. ( His studio is full of such colorful and bold paintings as you can see in the images above) 

I would like to ask you a question which many artist face and that is when do you know when the painting is finished?
It's really never finished for me and its the same I believe with all the artists not just the beginners. When you are not sure it is good to put it aside for some time. Even a small brushstroke can change the whole painting.

You are a studio based artist , how much time you spend in the studio?
I used to get to the studio at 6 am and leave by 7 pm but now I come a little late. Sometimes I just come to sit here and reflect.

People of your generation work very hard and with dedication unlike some young artists. What will you say about that?
Yes, I work regularly and not only towards an exhibition. You ask me for my works anytime and I will be able to give collection of work that will reflect me.

What is the art scene in Ghana?
There is no industry in Ghana unfortunately though some young ones are trying very hard. We have very creative people here , we just need support to put ourselves on that pedestal. Some people are trying to put the structures together to do that and I am very happy to support anyone in that line.

How is the artist community here in Ghana?
The young ones are doing very well  by coming together.  I am too traditionalist to relate to what is happening now. I think every era has determined how the art form should be and I agree to that. I am happily ready to help out if needed as its the community.
I am a studio based artist. I am involved in founding of some institutions though I am not very active.I rather like to stay away and be more committed to create art. 

What are your upcoming projects?
I don't focus on projects. I just paint.

Where your collective base is?
Not in town. Actually rest of Africa and Asia. I wish I could get a lot more people from Ghana collecting my works but somehow its still not working.

Have you ever thought of doing art practice out of Ghana?
No. when I graduated from the College of Arts, I applied to do Masters and got admitted to Temple University in US. But after 1st semester I left as that was not for me.

What do you think of art fairs? Have your participated in any art fair?
No. In US lot of people travel to art fairs. Its a way to advertise yourself. Though I feel that self promotion is good and I did that in the beginning to get to certain stage, somebody else doing your promotion does work and Art fairs are helpful  towards it.

Is art funding necessary?
It is but I believe we just support the artists to find their value .

What will be a piece of advice for the upcoming artists?
You just work from your heart. If work needs you to represent you, your heart needs to be there. Most of them work towards the sale and I don't blame them but again I would try to get them to add a little bit of heart. Then and then your work will appeal the people.

Born in 1957 in Takoradi, Ghana Mr Wiz Kudowor live and works in Accra, Ghana.
You can view more of his works on his website:
www.wizkudowor.com

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