Thursday, 15 June 2017


Here is a poem I wrote for me dear friend Danne Van Cleve-Norton over in Las Vagas.

Danne Flying High

You to me are like the long awaited rains and
as your goodness falls so the land responds.
Nothing can grow without you. You are my constant.
You are like the glorious smell of just cut lawns.
That fresh wild scent of happiness found and
the splendid joy of seeing in brand new beginnings.

You lift me up when I am down and go that extra mile.
For that and for so much more, I am forever grateful.
You shower your light on the darkest of corners searching
to find those hidden meanings in all things worth knowing.
Never change, you are perfection and loved just the way you
are. You are kind, loving, caring but most of all you are true.

Those agonizing days when stupidity wins and reason is
rejected you are there, to battle out the issues and to comfort.
Like the seasons you are constant. Constantly evolving.
Finding new reasons to wake and explore some more.
You supported me when others turned their backs.
I just wanted to write and say. You’re the best bird in the sky.

JP. 2017

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Serge Clottey by Joe Pollitt

New Ways of Seeing Art / Culture

By Joe Pollitt
(In Tunbridge Wells – United Kingdom)

Today begins an ongoing debate about life in Ghana, the first country on the Continent to gain Independence, back in 1957. Spearheaded by the artist, Serge Clottey, along with an entourage of fellow artists from Labadi, Nima and elsewhere in Accra, Gallery 1957 is opening its doors to the public at the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City.

The aim of the project is to pioneer new ways of seeing Art and the purpose of culture to any society. Unlike the previous generations of Post Colonial artists from Africa, those that were given scholarships and awards to educate themselves in various European art colleges like the Slade, the Royal Academy, the International Art College or Ecole Beaux Art Superiore in Paris, we are now beginning to see a change like never before. The artists are choosing to turn their backs on the more formal training from the West and preferring to exercise something far more organic, original and home-grown, pulling from every aspect found in their proud indigenous cultures and remaking what is considered art in West Africa as a stamp for the International Art Community to look toward.

This is developing a certain shift in the global mindset towards the Continent. There is suddenly a need for a re-education and a greater understanding of the purpose and meaning of Art. Through a series of unique and authentic installations, works of art and performances, the gallery is setting an impressive standard for others to follow.

Serge Attukwei Clottey has gained international recognition via the Internet and through his travels overseas with his works focusing on the yellow jerry cans, an iconic visual symbol that have become central to his work; these yellow gallon drums used to bring water to homes of the underprivileged can be seen throughout the poorer neighbourhoods of Accra and becomes his optical metaphor for the underdevelopment of Ghana’s Capital. Water is at a premium and although considered the most essential human right on earth, in the Accra, tap water in homes is strictly reserved for the wealthy and well-to-do. Good drainage and plumbing throughout the city has yet to be achieved for all. Serge is often regarded as one of the leading lights of his era has effectively emotionally taken from the rich to benefit the poor creating a new generation of artists from Africa – Generation X but what would his father say to his son, dressing up in his Mother’s clothes and calling it Art?

Those that have followed Serge’s earlier years saw how initially, he bravely took on the mantra from his father Mr Seth Clottey, whose formal, conventional more conservative artworks brought him fame in the years during Independence and beyond. Although his father’s paintings are highly accomplished works of Art they do tend to favour a Colonial appetite. The idea of creating portraiture, figurative works or landscapes, stretched onto canvases and set in gilded frames seemed a little unadventurous for his fiercely competitive son. Those old-fashioned and outdated works seemed to somehow play into the hands of an oppressed past. They were created on demand and on the basis to be sold. To find a specific market for an invisible dominance that seems to have remained in Ghana since Independence. The young artist felt that his father’s generation was nothing more than Ghanaians copying the West.

The culture in West Africa, just like elsewhere on the Continent, is to show your respect for your elders at all times and never to confrontation them. To do so is regarded as being utterly impertinent and rewarded with a handsome beating. His father, Mr Seth Clottey simply couldn’t understand what on earth he was up to. This tormented father/son relationship was certainly not an easy one and the very idea of creating works out of discarded rubbish was difficult for the older generation to come to terms with and virtually impossible to comprehend. Mr. Seth Clottey was furious with his non-conforming off spring, thinking him rude and disrespectful. It was at this time when I first met Serge, at his poorest and his best. He was at war with himself and all those around him. The two artists young and old were at loggerheads. His father was completely baffled by his son’s antics, thinking he would never make anything of himself playing with the discarded scraps of the city.
What kind of livelihood could he make from such efforts? He never for one instance considered what he was doing could possibly be taken seriously and Ghana would end up making fun of his son and ruin the family name, so began the agonizing early years and the beginning of Serge’s artistic endeavours.

These were the tough days as the hardships Serge faced without financial or emotional support meant he was limited to the materials he could afford and the places he could sleep. Having such little money he found solace in his friends in the impoverished areas of Labadi and Nima, these are some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Accra, but it was here that the banished son found his support.
He would assist in the pulling in of the nets for the fishermen in Labadi to earn a decent square meal. He lived in a simple room without running water or electricity so painting in oil or acrylics was too much to ask so these limitations became his greatest assets. During the day he became a beachcomber looking for any washed up garbage he could use as artistic materials and bind together to create his artworks. The difficulty in the early days was to break that classic mindset of the past, that hangover from Colonialism that Art can only truly be art if it looks like the Art being produced in the West (Europe or America). It took great will power and an artistic stubbornness from the young buck, determined to make his make in the world of Art but through the introduction of the Internet and access to a wider world all this thinking was echoed elsewhere. The artist’s true pathway was rising to meet him and the battle for true cultural independence was set.

Ousmane Sow | Senegalese Sculptor

OUSMANE SOW | The Guardian Obiturary

Senegalese sculptor who captured the energy of people resisting oppression.

Ousmane Sow with Massai Warrior

In many respects this is a sea-change in Art. What Ousmane Sow is explaining is that ancient Yoruba and Mali methods of sculpture are superior to those from Europe as they have more flexibility. Some of his later original sculptures are impossible to replicate in bronze or gold as the medium is too heavy and restrictive to display what is physically possible in sculpture. Sometimes the primitive is superior to what is considered by many to be civilized.

The controversial African artist, Senegalese sculptor, Ousmane Sow, has died at the age of 81. Sow worked continuously as an Artist; as a child growing up in Dakar he made action figures which he shared with his friends and used to make up elaborate fictional stories. He worked on model-making and animations in Paris for decades, even turning his physiotherapy office into his studio. He produced a short 16mm film about a group of flamboyant extraterrestrials visiting planet earth, but his career only started once he had returned to Africa and settled back into his beloved Dakar, in his early 50’s. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s Sow produced an immense body of work using African materials and techniques. His first major success came with his larger-than-life sculptures of the Nubian Sudanese Wrestlers, at the French Cultural Centre in Dakar in 1987. 
Massai Series
Zulu Series
Next came the Maasia, from Kenya and Tanzania exploring their exceptional hunting ability and their connection with the wilderness of the Serengeti and then the Zulu warriors from Kwzulu-Natal, South Africa and their strength and unity as one of the most resilient tribes in Africa. Last in this initial series, he explored the stunning beauty found in nomadic, Islamic Fulani people from the Sahel and West Africa, whose features are akin with those found in the Middle Eastern with their golden brown skins. The Nubian Series was an anthropological exercise by the artist and a broad look at the different varieties of peoples to be found on the Continent of Africa.

Fulani Series
Stirred by the German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl and her photographic books on the Nuba and the people of Kau from the Sudan. A series of images known as Mein Afrika was translated in 1982 into English and renamed, Vanishing Africa. To Sow, it seemed rather perverse for a German film-maker, that not only supported but created propaganda for Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party, should be the artist to record the lives of Africans. Ambitiously he took on the vital role as an African anthropologist and quietly, and methodically decided to chronicle the multiplicity of Africa using ancient and modern African sculptural techniques and finally permitting an African perspective on African people. Over several years he created a series of huge sculptures exposing the diversity of the Continent.
Nubian Wrestlers
The naked wrestlers were quite shocking when first shown outside the French Cultural Centre in the Muslim city of Dakar. Their presence and majestic dominance won the artist great acclaim and by 1993 Sow was selected for Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and the Venice Biennale two years later. Cosmic success followed and the public's response to Sow's works were more like fans at a rock concert or cinema-lovers watching their favourite movies from their best Directors. The works seemed to take on a life of their own and the reactions were deeply private and affected each person differently. In 1998 he took on his greatest challenge, the Americans and created, what many consider his Masterpieces, 35 works in his American Indians series, a few he placed on horseback, some with guns others with bows and arrows, all fighting for victory against General Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.
Mother and Child
Born in 1935, Sow grew up in the vibrant neighbourhood of Reubeuss in Dakar. He was raised by his disciplinarian father, Moctar and his robust St. Louis mother, Nafi N’Diaye. At the age of 7 he attended a French Lycée and obediently practiced Islam after school and at the weekends. Later, whilst in France, he found solace in meditation and Hinduism with a profound belief in reincarnation. In the home that he built in Dakar he made the best room in the house his meditation room.
His interest in sculpture was evident from a young age. In his teens he explored different formulas with glues and melted materials to build up various figurines. In 1957, after the death of his Father, Sow decided to leave Dakar, even though he was penniless. Senegal at that time was a Colony of France and as a member of one of the French Departments Sow was a French Citizen. The artist’s attitude towards life is remembered by a conversation with the French journalist, Marie-Odile Briot. In his childhood when asked if he could catch the moon he jumped out of bed, put on his slippers and gave it his best shot.
Once in France, Sow found temporary accommodation in assorted police stations around Paris and gradually picked up fleeting jobs in order to get by. Having an interest in the human body he attended a course on massage, which earned him a diploma in nursing from Laennec Hospital. He then went on to study with Boris Dolto, a pioneer in orthopaedics and kinesiology therapy in France. His professional skills as a physiotherapist provided financial stability but also the essential understanding and working knowledge of the human body, which became so invaluable in his later life. 
Battle of Little Big Horn
Sow was a Master of exaggeration with a fundamental understanding of the human analytic anatomy. He was able to delve into his familiarity with restful muscles as opposed to those that contort. In many respects this artist was an enigma who found extraordinary global acclaim. His meteoric rise came out of nowhere but Sow had been patiently working on ideas since first showing his bas-relief entitled, Head of a Moor at the World Festival of Black Arts (FESMAN) in 1966. His works are authentically African taken from the different sculptural techniques from West Africa specifically, from the Nok artisans of Ife, Nigeria. Sow sculpted without a model and rarely made sketches. The secret to his success lies in the alchemy of his handmade medium, a number of highly prized ingredients such as red soil, sand, mother of vinegar and other confidential matter were placed into barrels, turned into pulp and left to brew over time. The whole process is an art form in itself, which gave the Artist as much pleasure as the creation of his massive sculptures. Once the models were dressed and stuffed he applied by hand, his mysterious toxic recipe onto a framework of metal, straw and jute, allowing nature to do her magic and giving the medium its own freedom to harden under the hot Dakar sun. This approach is inherently artistic, but also deeply rooted in Africa. In the first phase of his work, the Nubian Series, the gargantuan figures come across as rather harsh, the sculptures are smooth, solid and tense; their postures rigid and inflexible... almost obstinate. What is so impressive is that for the first time, we see an African Artist playing anthropologist, not only does he magnify those from the Continent but does so with ancient African traditional forms of sculpture that date back to the 11th Century.
Battle of Little Big Horn
In the second phase of his artistic life, Sow’s techniques changed slightly and in the Battle of Little Bighorn | The American Effect at the Whitney Museum in 2003 we see far rougher, coarser and more ambitious works on display. The figures are daring in their colour and Sow left holes in the frameworks and using his new burnt technique, was able to make the sculptures more malleable and dramatic. The grey matter on the horses comes from melting pieces of coloured plastics which create a remarkable finish. The end result is a magnificent production of 11 horses and 24 human figures in incredible positions never before seen. This gained Sow the reputation as one of the greatest sculptors of all time.
Ousmane Sow | Le Pont Des Arts
In the spring of 1999 at the invitation of Paris City Hall, the artist exhibited one of the most spectacular events in living memory, at le pont des Arts. The show attracted over three million visitors and the French media even warned that the influx of so many spectators would undermine the integrity of the bridge itself. The exhibition included seventy-five of Sow's colossal works featuring members of the Nubian Series, his American Indians and various iconic figures. These awe-inspiring works were on display between the Louvre and the Académie Francaise. This was an impressive show of epic proportions, which won the artist adoration and admiration from the French public.
Dancer with the short hair
After his successful 1999 exhibition, he began using a bronze foundry to cast some of his earlier works. The finest of which is Dancer with the Short Hair.  In the remote Kordofan region, in the south of Sudan, where the Nuba live, young virgins dance the myertum, the "dance of love". The young dancers smear their bodies with black or red earth to make themselves appear more athletic and desirable. They perform a special playful seductive dance for the victorious wrestlers, who sit in a circle, their eyes lowered out of respect, after the annual ceremonial combat.  Bronze is the perfect medium for this stunning Masterpiece, with its dark, shimmering quality and its refined finish, it is able to flawlessly replicate the natural beauty of the Dancer with Short Hair.
On 11th April 2012 Sow was elected to become a Membre Associé Etranger ("foreign associate member") of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France, replacing the American artist, Andrew Wyeth. He became the first African artist ever to be elected for membership.
Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Old Slave
In the same year his sculpture “Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Old Slave” was the centrepiece at African Mosaic at the National Museum of African Art in Washington. This work was acquired by the Museum and featured in the bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution, the work celebrates Toussaint L'Ouverture who led a slave revolt in Haiti  from 21 August 1791 to 1 January 1804. 
His final work, The Peasant, a commission from the office of the President of Senegal. The work is to be cast in bronze and installed in front of the Abdou Diouf International Conference Center in Diamniadio, near Dakar. Ousmane Sow completed his last work just one month before he died. His incredible legacy is assured and his commitment to all things Africa will certainly go down in the African Art History books of tomorrow.
Ousmane Sow born 10th October 1935 to 1st December 2016 | He leaves behind a new generation of impressive sculptors from Senegal: Seni Awa Camara, N’Dary Lo, Mamady Seydi, Cheikhou Bâ, Henry Sagna and Abdala Faye.

EMMANUEL KAVI by Joe Pollitt


Exhibition at Beautiful Art Gallery, Vichy.
Artist: Emmanuel Kavi from Togo

Playwright Arthur Miller, wrote his famous one act play, "Incident at Vichy" in 1964, which observes a group of men detained in Vichy, France. The men are all held in a makeshift detention cell, awaiting the unknown. What they are being held for soon becomes apparent, their “racial inspection” by the gendarmes sous Vichy and officers of the German army during the Second World War. The play dissects the true nature of human-beings, focusing on what has been done in the town and how easy tyranny and intimidation can dominate the weak majority. The themes of this short Play revolve around the ideas of guilt, fear and complicity and examines how the Nazis were able to perpetrate the Holocaust with so little resistance.

With this troubled history in mind, to hear of a Congolese man, Christian Miltoni, had set up an establishment supporting the artists of Africa in the centre was quite remarkable. I could not wait to see the art and discover new works by the francophone artists. The gallery has only recently opened in January and is called, “Beautiful Art”. This is an ambitious project and the location is perfect; right in the heart of France. Vichy has an ugly history and it seems only fitting that an African Gallery should heal the wounds of the past this event was crucial. The importance of Africa in Art has yet to be fully realized but the works are similar to the Vichy waters; they rejuvenate, keep us young as they are full of original and inventive philosophical approaches to the subject. This fundamentally reminds us of the importance of Art.

It was interesting to see those on the streets taking such an interest in Emmanuel's work and engaging in ideas their parents would have found abhorrent. The French are a nation of Art Lovers and this is the one aspect where race has not barrier and the paintings were professional and personal, exhibited with a sensitivity that is rarely seen in the main stream. 
The work has such strength when shown together and the potency was not lost on the Vichy public. It was clear that the work was authentically organic and uniquely West African. The canvases were filled with messages of mythology and creative beasts, known and unknown. It was a luxury to see such a well constructed and curated solo show.
Two Faced
We must ask ourselves what is African Art?    What makes it different from European Art? What should we be looking for? We are acutely aware that the two forms of Art are seriously worlds apart. Emmanuel is a pioneer here and leading the way by harnessing all that is good in his environment from digging the land to work with, to weaving strips of cotton to make up his canvases. He works with professional leather dyers and has an interest in all those that make colour naturally. He even adds pieces of bark to create texture and depth showing his deep respect for nature. He is reducing and reducing himself down to nothing; expectant of nobody and reliant only on what he can find around him. This is the absolute polar opposite of the work being produced by artists in the West. Their works are over produced, created with huge budgets and constructed on a scale that mentally dwarfs the onlooker, leaving the audience in a state of a false impression. The work is overwhelming and generally leaves nothing for the imagination. It is plastic in all kinds of ways and devoid of feeding the mind so it high time for Africa to rise and come out of the shadows and play a pivotal role in our present day thinking.
On Saturday, July 4, I journeyed to Claremont by Ryan Air, which is Volvic country and then took a train up to Vichy, famed for its pure waters that are thought to have healthy properties. Held in the centre was a Mid-Career Exhibition by the Togolese artist, Emmanuel Kavi. Emmanuel has been working on various projects since the early 1990s and I stumbled across his artwork in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, back in 2003. I had kept in contact with Emmanuel but only via social media, so I was overjoyed to meet him in person. His work in 2003 was lively, full of hope and vigour, the type of work that can only be created within the comfort of Africa. Thankfully, in October 2014, Emmanuel made the decision to base himself permanently in Togo rather than France. He quickly re-established himself by joining four other artists who, together, work in a large studio located just outside the capital, Lome. In June Emmanuel proudly invited me to France to see his new works. I was thrilled to be asked and delighted to see that his works were breathing the same perennial energy as before. Certainly one of the favourites with the French audience was this erotic work entitled "Metamorphose".

The gallery was packed, the art was everywhere; displayed on the walls, on the floor, on shelves and Emmanuel had made these humanoid creatures that calmly sat on the windowsill in full view for the curious French public. This was the most comprehensive African exhibitions I’d seen in years. It highlighted an artist at his best and outlined what it means to be from a country where there are no recognised Art Colleges, galleries or even art shops. It is fascinating to watch artists with absolutely no access to materials like; paints, canvases, easels, brushes, white spirits and see what can be achieved with the bare minimum. On the walls there where paintings with pieces of bark, crushed cola nuts which made an impressive deep blue/purple, there was evidence of sand and plenty of the familiar rich Togolese soil. In the window of the gallery was the boldest piece of work I have seen in decades. An “Informel” naked African coming out of a canvas. Made up of mesh and the red earth found outside the city in the countryside.. 

In the window. In full view of all the passing French art lovers - Right in the centre of France. Vichy of all places..VICHY? Those that refer to these artists as,"Artiste de plasticen", what a vulgar phrase, typically french and trying their best to push the artists of Africa down like they did the writers with the phrase "Nigritude" - Artiste de Plasticen is a phrase specifically used for African artists and it means those that paint, sculpt, create ceramics, write poetry and even dance. But if you were to ask but was Picasso not an “Artiste de Plasticen”? The answer you would get is, "Non, Picasso est une grande Artiste period." Look what Emmanuel has done...the emerging naked African ready to take on the art world. Who can have asked for more? The whole show was full of bold work, stylish and full of fresh new visions coming from the francophones.
La danse du salon
It took me ages to understand but I was beginning to make the connections and links to post-war France, back to an exhilarating period in Art History; France’s “Art Informel” in the 1950s. This sea-changing period gave rise to the “Cobra Movement”; artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam also the abstract movement throughout Europe and had links to the NY School of abstract expressionism in the USA. Surprisingly, this runs virtually in parallel with Contemporary francophone West Africa of now. For the artists to become international they will inevitably have to develop a movement of some kind and this is imperative for the Africans in general. Emmanuel and I spoke about this paradigm and it became evident that the artists had already inaugurated such a Movement; in fact they had started as far back as the last century; in the late 1990’s. Most of the serious artists were working with only the essentials, preferring to reject the techniques and ideals of the West in favour of making do with what was available from their immediate surroundings. This way the artists graciously accepted their fate and overcame the pitfalls by being creatively inventive. The Group hadn’t really seen themselves as anything other than individual artists but they share the same vocation so together Emmanuel and I settled on the aptly named phrase - “Afrique Informel”. In establishing this Movement the artists will be assured a place in history and also acquire the necessary changes needed in order to be accepted into the World of Art without the dreadful Imperialistic oversight of an unnecessary and unwanted Western qualification. The Group has essentially evolved from a series of French speaking West African artists: Emmanuel Kavi, Kossi Ankude “Laka”, Papisco Kudzi and Sokey Edorh from Lome, Togo; Soly Cisse and N’Dary Lo from Senegal: Suzanne Ouedraogo, and Sama from Ouaga, Burkina Faso; Ernest Duku from Cote D’Ivoire and Charly D’Almeida and Romuald Hazoume from Cotonou, Benin. All these artists are reducing their palettes and working with the essentials. They use natural dyes as pigments, the red soil, discarded metallic objects for sculptures and even the barks of the trees on handmade canvases in order to add texture but I digress; let us focus in on the work at hand. Back to the gallery....
In walking through the exhibition the art was almost overpowering and then in the back was a small box room, the light cozy and warm but the work was in stark contrast; it was full of scratches, claw marks of frustration and passion. The room was filled with items of significance woven twigs attached to material glued and painted over. The build up of a scream appearing within the centre of the canvas; a face trying to be heard or even transmitting the possibility of a subtle attack on a fragile audience.

On one of the shelves, next to the entrance to the back room quietly perched a relatively small work that many may even have overlooked. The artwork was almost in darkness and certainly overshadowed by rather impressive larger works, but there among the many and standing solo with an air of confidence,  was "Abreuvoir", looking remarkably like a exhibition of it's own. This work really touched me to the core so much so that it seemed to speak to me in ways I haven't heard or felt before. It said, 'I am a cave painting, I am primitive and proud. I have nothing and nobody to fear for I am part of the primitive, unashamed of my shortcomings, my crudeness, my nakedness, my ability to hunt and kill for my family if need be. Now in a time when all want to over develop and progress it is essential that we hear the counter arguments posed by artists who are thinking that if the cave paintings are still of such importance and the Constables, Stubbs and even Théodore Géricault are secondary to the rock art it only makes sense to respect the origins of mankind and echo their ideas on handmade canvases. These are the  voices that represent values held by the majority of  those thinking.

Dialogue du corps
The art was strong and evoked the sense and spirit of the idea of "Otherness". That secret knowledge of the spiritual and the unknown; things Western audiences are slightly frightened of. The unspoken and uncontrollable fear of the unpredictability of darkest Africa. Works like these are not seen in the mainstream as they are truly African with that unique sense of independence and rebellion that the establishment desperately tries to keep a lid on. These works are full of natural, raw and untamable talent, they are some of the best never seen works ever. They deserve their own classification and a movement to be born out from them. They are far from tepid and essential for our progressive international thinking on the overdeveloped series of the best of African art.

The boy in the corner nearest to us is crying as he reads the newspaper.

Somehow the timing of this Movement seems perfect. Back in the 1980’s Jean-Michel Basquiat joined friends he had met in NYC from Cote D’Ivoire and wanted to introduce the world to the creativity found in Africa, especially the work being created by Francophone West Africans. He was blocked, stopped in this tracks and ridiculed by the Media. Sadly, this young talented artist tragically died of an overdose in 1988 aged only 27 and his vision for Africa was never realized.  Since that time the Art World has not taken any risks. The best artists are not being celebrated or applauded and a total commercialization of art has taken shape since Basquiat’s demise. The market has aligned itself with the uncouth 'nouveau riche', so African Art is a welcomed change. Today, the Contemporary Africans are being seen, heard and respected. Thanks to technology and social media the artists are far more visible than ever before. These original and indigenous artworks are the perfect optimistic antidote to overthrow the beastly arena of the opulent vulgarity that is the Art World.