Skoto has been a treasure in Chelsea for many years – often featuring the engaging and thought-provoking work of contemporary African artists. Currently they have an amazing show by Owusu-Ankomah, an internationally exhibited artist originally from Ghana.
This artist’s paintings are covered in various symbols which seem to have been inspired by the ancient Adinkra symbols of the Asante people. Since seeing the show I’ve been reading a great deal about these symbols and, if you get a chance, and are also interested in semiotics, history and culture, you might enjoy looking into this as well. Each symbol seems to represent a concept or even an aphorism. These symbols are often printed on fabric for clothing in Ghana but some have even been used in advertising. My favorite symbol is ‘tamfro bebre’ which seems to mean: “Don’t worry, the enemy will stew in his own juice.” A symbol that looks like two crossed leg bones means: “God never dies and therefore I cannot die.”
If you look closely, though, at his paintings, you see that there are very powerfully built male figures that are somewhat camouflaged among the signs. At times the symbols on a figure’s body correspond to a couple background symbols but then conflict with others. Is the figure deliberately searching for a correspondence between the patterns on his body and the patterns behind him? Does he believe that finding the right place so that his body and background naturally blend will lead to something? Has he memorized the symbols that cover him so completely that he is now locked through symbols and memories of symbols into a type of artificial process divorced from real experience and the opportunities real experience gives for self-transformation?
The implication might be that these guys believe there is a ‘correct’ sequence, pattern or order of symbols which already exists in a perfect arrangement and once one recreates or adapts to this sequence, the end of symbolism becomes possible and the beginning of a wholly new process can begin. So the theory seems to be: succumb to symbolism to overcome symbolism. This would seem to fit in with the artist’s concept of the ‘microcon’ – a belief that there is a ‘super-symbol’ or a symbol that represents a ‘confluence’ of symbols that would reveal the nature of symbolism so clearly that we would be freed from figurative bondage and wallow completely in the muddy waters of full experience.
Microcon Begins – October 23, 2014 – January 10, 2015
529 W. 20th Street New York, NY 10011
Article by Daniel Gauss
Photography provided by the gallery and the artist