There is no king without a custom

The genealogy of politics has been closely tied with the animals’ nature. The sagacity of the fox, the fierceness of the tiger, the domain of the lion, the silent steps of the pigeon, the sneakiness of the mouse, the force of the rhinoceros.

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We have gradually lost our self-description as animals, as mammals. Plato says that humans were second rate animals, and that this disadvantageous situation could be seen in how our nails had become a mockery of claws. Our skin is also fragile, unprotected. We arm ourselves with the skin of the strong. Furthermore, it is with the animals’ horns, figurative phallus, with which men re-invigorate themselves to rule. There are no animal vaginas portrayed as powerful. How would the world look like when we are all –finally- naked? When we recover our own bodies and the phallus will no longer be erected as the sole monument of government.

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The power comes with garments, there are hierarchies of symbols and of clothes. The skin of the one becomes the crown of the other. Every political act is a performative act. 

There is no king without a costume. There are no queens without thrones. Does every political act need a stage for it to be believed upon?

Part of the “Multiple Gazes of a Country’s Photographed Past“, a publication by African Photography Initiatives – APhILink to the publication

Interview with Serge Attukwei

Q: What is Africa for you?

A: Africa means everything to me, I was raised and born in Africa. Because I know the struggle that Africa has been through, in history, through slavery. I feel that Africa can be better, will be better with us. I really want to live in Africa, and I am proud to be an African because there I have so many ideas that I can relate into my work; also the space and the culture is what builds me up as an artist, but also as a human, as a black person. Africa means everything to me.

Q: For you what does dependency and interdependency mean? Do you find a connection between the two of them?

A: Maybe I talk about myself generally, you know, independency is for me a challenge. Because growing up with your parents and family, you are brought up to go according to their wishes and sometimes you experience different situations in life where you think that you have to be independent, that you have to have your freedom. But you have to rely on your family and on people as well, so it also has advantages and disadvantages. It is very important to experience both, so you can learn how you can live better with these two, so that you can develop yourself in between. You are always kind of unbalanced. It is also important to see who you are in your own space or with people.

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Q: You express in your art the tense relationships between Africa and Europe, or between Africa and the world and viceversa. What does these relations affect or are presented in your work?

A: I think that Europe has influenced Africa in so many ways because of the historical relationship, and for me, personally, I was born in Ghana, I studied art in Ghana and in Brazil. Brazil was actually a part of realization in my work, as an African artist to go to South America and study art. But in Ghana we have a strong influence by Europeans in terms of culture, especially in customing. Africans now try to look like Europeans because of the huge influence in the media, or what they see about Europe, even people that have never been to Europe have a perception on how Europe looks like. So, it influences my work in several ways because I have travelled to Europe for several projects and I have learned so much how people recognize my work in Europe but not in Ghana, you know? Because my work was actually recognized in Europe first, so I see how my work has a reflection in Europe more than in Africa, but actually the idea was from Africa, but it has different recognition in Europe and that is a kind of an influence. Every time I travel I try to learn different techniques, in Ghana I easily develop my work because I have the materials around, in Europe is not so easy to find these materials around. So you have to be very conceptual with things that you approach, so Europe has a strong influence in my work right now because I also look at the relationship between Africa and Europe, what kind of elements I adapt to my work and I also deal with history and archival materials in my work. In general I think that Europe has a strong influence in the arts and culture in Africa.

Q: What do you think is the role of art now? For you as an artist, what do you think is important for art to do?

A: Art for me is development, art has developed the world in so many ways. When it comes to architecture it is art, fashion is art and so on. Art is changing the world into a better place because people have to make a social change, to criticize a situation and create awareness. I think that it has a huge message in global development. I am also finding ways to play a middle role through my art to speak out issues that are affecting my country and which are affecting the world. Art can do a strong global change.

Q: Following the thought of the notions of in- and dependency, what is the notion of the puppet for you? Especially thinking of your performance entitled “Whose puppet are you?”

A: It is always a struggle for a person to be established, it is even harder if you are from Africa, it is a challenge to find the way of working in what you really want. You have to work hard, you have to know what you want, you have to be focused. When thinking about all these structures you then need a support and that is where dependency comes, you need a support and maybe it is not coming from anyone of your family but it comes from somewhere else, they put conditions that you need to obey to get what you want so that is where the puppet starts. The puppet is something that affects everyone, because you need a support, you need someone to do what you want to do. You go through different situations before you can achieve your goals. So, the puppet is something that gives you a glimpse of how hard you need to work. To achieve you need to go through these challenges, these seasons of life, these difficulties, the puppet is something that you have to go through to achieve your dream. You can’t get away from it. There is someone that will tell you what to do.

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Q: In your sculpture and performance work you frequently use the element of the mask, could you tell me a bit more about that? What is your relationship with the notion of face and facelessness?

A: I came about the mask when I look at the consumption of these plastic gallons in Africa, they were all oil containers and now, when they come to Ghana, they are used as water storage. So, it has become kind of a symbolic use, because we have struggled with water crisis and this aspect has a very strong relationship with humans. Everybody uses this plastic gallons. I am also thinking about the futuristic development, if there were so much water in Africa, what would these gallons be useful for? As an artist I play the role of transforming them to become the masks that will symbolize our struggle. People smile but they are suffering, the mask covers the face of your suffering. They become a mask of our time, a symbol to cover up your suffering, to block those kind of relationships. I am also transforming these to have a traditional mask that represents African development, these masks define our times. We have different African masks but this is our contemporary mask.

Q: Another topic presented in your work is the one of travel and migration. Could you tell me if you see a difference between travel and migration? And how does this affect your work, especially since you travel to work?

A: I think when you talk about travelling, travelling from one continent to another it is always a disaster. Even the processes of your travel become really structured, you have to get certain requirements before you can move outside. Migration is something that is always a nightmare because you always think about somewhere you have never been but with the belief that life is better there than where you are. You have all those visions and you try everything you can to go there. You have sadness, suffering. Before your journey you are in a desperate situation and you go through different boundaries before you end up going or seeing what you are thinking about. For me, African migration is something very difficult because people travel on the desert, on the sea, because of hope and somehow we don’t fulfill that hope. Because of what we think about our own space, the negative things that we see in our own space. This is how African migration becomes a disaster. Because there are certain qualities you need before you can travel, like the passport, the visa, the bank statement, the invitation letter. You know? Those are things that people don’t get, they cannot get them, so they find their own way to what is so called “promise land”. Travelling and migration is a struggle. And when it comes to continents, it is always a disaster. I remember the first time I came to Europe, even before the preparation I had so many things running up in my mind, expectations and all that, but I couldn’t fulfill all of these expectations.

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Q: What do distances mean to you?

A: Distance gives me disconnection. When I am far away from home I can have this disconnection from home because I don’t get to connect with people. Sometimes I don’t even think about my family anymore but finding ways to be secured in this new place. Starting new friendships, meeting new people, talking about different things than talking about home. We are always dealing with the space where we are in. After time you begin to forget home and if you find who you are in this part here then this space becomes your home but it is not it. Distance for me its a hard thing, it is hard to stay away from home because I feel always disconnected with people.

Q: Another important aspect of your career as an artist has been your ongoin collaboration with the performance group “GoLokal”. What is locality for you and in which sense should it be represented or protected?

A: As an artist I always follow the mantra “think global, act local”. I find the space in which I grew up as very important to me because it has so many reflection on my work, on my career, on being an artist and growing up in the arts. I always wanted to expand my experience with art with the people that I live around and I always find ways to give back to the community for bringing me this far. But I think that people need more than that, people need art, people need to realize who they are, their senses and how they can use creativity to make a change. I used to do solo performances and people were asking questions about my work and it was mostly focused about myself and I am not so comfortable with that; so I decided to work with a group of people from the community. There are so many talents in the community but you don’t have the structures to explore or to show that so I used my experience and my platform to bring together a group. “Go Lokal” actually started three years ago when I moved to Labadi, before I was living in a more residential area in Accra. In 2012 was the first group performance on the streets of Labadi about politics and it was really amazing how everyone worked. The show was covered by a TV station in Ghana and it was shown the whole week, the community saw the video and people thought we had been paid to do this performance, thinking that we were campaining for a particular party. The people kept calling, appreciating the work because it was just a performance and due to the fact that we didn’t spend so much money, it was just the energy and the idea. I think people in the community actually realized how art can play a social change. Now people are interested in being part of the group, even older people keep asking me. We even arranged a performance with old people about the illegal gold mining which is an issue that is affecting the country, it was made in February of this year. Recently we worked as a group on the Arts Festival Ghana in August. I think that people are realizing the social change through art and are willing to support, to spend their time, to be part of it.

Q: Community is an important factor then?

A: Yes, it is important to know the people in the community, to develop the community and establish something that can support it. Together with the performance group we are getting to know the people in the community and their abilities, what they are trying to achieve and what they want to do. We give everybody a role if he or she is interested in the performance, and we bring them together. What I want to do in Labadi is to get a place for performance workshops and also to invite people and collaborate with different cultures. Right now we are the only performance group in Ghana that is really active so I want to focus more on that.

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Q: What does art gives to you?

A: Art gives me life, it gives me the living to survive, art can give me the possiblity to do whatever I want. I think I have experienced different things, I’ve learned so much by being an artist. Sometimes I struggle to understand art, because there are so many things that I want to do and time and energy sometimes is not there. I try to hold back and also try to focus on something else but this is not possible. I think that art is life and I can’t live without it. There are so many changes in my life with the arts, I don’t know how it is going to end but I have so many things that I want people to realize, but it is starting very small and I think is growing over time. Art keeps me wanting for more, encouraging me to focus and to move forward.

Q: What are the topics tht are burning in you right now? Which paths will you continue?

A: I am working more on the concept of recycling art and looking at art also as in materiality. How material travels and have different value, as objects. I am as well looking at the present day Africa, What has Africa achieved? I am also playing these themes to show how Africa has beeen influenced from Europe and how the history still exists in our present day Africa. I am putting attention on those things and I think it is something that creates a performative idea in my work and also in my photographs because I combine performance and photography.

Q: How has this experience in Vienna has been? Has it affected your work?

A: I think that is has been good so far, the work that I am creating here would be different if I were back home, in Ghana. Because it is also a different point of view, seeing migration from an African perspective. When you talk about migration here it is different, but from Africa people have more stories, more elements that can adapt to the work. It has not been easy but I am still trying to push myself, after experiencing both places I know how that is. Home is always home, where you feel more comfortable to express what you feel, and this is a project that needs to be fulfilled. I really want to take this project further, how back to it, to create ideas, to push it. I believe in travelling around and showing my work as an African artist, to know what Africa means to me.

Serge Attukwei: http://sergeoclottey.blogspot.pt/

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Don’t need to

I don’t need to write about Africa

to know that life is complicated.

I don’t need to mention Africa

to write poetry lines.

I don’t need to say your name

to explain how much

I do not understand you.

FÁCIL (PARA EIELSON)

Muy fácil escribir África en Europa
Muy fácil admirar a los guerreros
Fácil regocijarnos en nuestra misericordia
de noches de negros cuerpos
Fácil recordar el dulce tamborileo de tu boca
Muy fácil abrir libros, leer poetas
Fácil nombrar Mali Lagos Kinshasa
Muy fácil soñar con enfermedades
engendradas en pavimentos.
Fácil hojear el periódico con hombres
devorados por la violencia.
Muy fácil nombrarnos decolonialistas
Fácil cerrar los ojos
Muy fácil abrir la ducha caliente
Fácil, demasiado fácil.