Sunday, 15 April 2018

BON Voyages Accra: Gallery 1957 Presents Bright Ackwerh & Michael Soi in "Almost True"

  




   More and more, it seems to me that the "Wakanda Moment" of the post-Black Panther cultural landscape is characterised by opportunism, albeit less so by facile social buzzwords and more by the idea that the world may be ready to take Africa more seriously in creative terms, a Moment whose legs last longest as long as we ourselves are willing to carry them on our own broad backs

   How else to account for the turnout of the young and clued-up hashtag generation at this week's opening of "Almost True" by Bright Ackwerh of Ghana and Michael Soi of Kenya at the Kempinski Hotel Accra's Gallery 1957, which thronged from the dental surgery-whites of the main space to the spacious foyer beyond it, floors overlaid with sturdy tarp and duct tape to combat the dark side of every art gallerist's party favour, the open bar. In Ghanaian society, this level of public enthusiasm remains outmatched only by weddings, flash mobs and funerals


   That said, never underestimate the Ghanaian desire for a few good  schadenfreudian laughs, a facet that these two painters more than cater for. Soi's traditional canvas paintings, supplemented by printed bags and accessories, may have juxtaposed a tad glaringly with Ackwerh's detailed digital caricatures, but then the synergy in appealing group shows lies not only in the imagery but the messages as well. Even if one had not read the press release, a cursory scan of both sets of work unveils satirical meanings that are both caustic and cautionary, with the target range filling the further I crossed the room



All works by Michael Soi

   Soi's ponderings on Ghana and China's "special relationship," (to paraphrase Warren Ellis, we're simply choosing the face of the powers that are screwing us next) and now #metoo-relevant sexual assaults perpetrated by the kind of holy men who may have cash machines installed at work landed well, albeit with a familiarity that was possibly a little too comfortable in aesthetics if not subject matter. As one working in copywriting and marketing, I know there's sometimes a necessary utility in a traditional and obvious delivery, but I've also built Mode Parade and even my fine art / commercial photography practice on the juxtaposition and tensions the analogue-digital collision often results in




All works by Bright Ackwerh

   Thus 
it was Ackwerh who ultimately generated more discussion when I solicited opinions in the post-show carousing that followed. Digital art is  relatively new territory for Ghana, despite the prevalence of overly Photoshopped wedding and advertising photography, which only really surprises if one forgets that this is part of a continent known for diminishing or eradicating its own traditions to slavishly follow the mores of the West. Ackwerh's commentary is ripped-from-the-headlines unsubtle and he gladly professes a love of popular culture, but damn it if his results aren't amusing and biting. For one, he puts stories and faces to his works, from Presidents Akufo Addo and Macron to Kanye West's 'Famous' video, whilst indulging in a parodic bent that goes as far as to recontextualise Queen Elizabeth II becoming the world's longest reigning monarch following the 2017 resignation of Robert Mugabe - a man she once awarded a knighthood to - as a storyline from Game of Thrones


   Whilst my thoughts may seem rather measured, it's to its credit that "Almost True" makes no bones about its intent. This isn't an environment in which subtlety is recognised and rewarded - it's one in which Soi and Ackwerh have embarked on careers that invite familial disdain, conservative condescension and constant self-reflection in a way that is less notable in the likes of Britain, Germany and America. Choosing their marks and shouting out loud at them isn't a bug. It's exactly what they need to be doing to make their presences known and their opinions concrete

Bright Ackwerh with friends

ShareThis