Avant Arte in Accra

A series of studio visits in the Ghanaian capital.

January 17, 2022

On the cusp of 2022 we returned to the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to spend time with some of the artists whose work continues to place the city at the forefront of global culture. Avant Arte Co-Founder Christian Luiten visited 8 artists in their studios, several of whom spent formative years together at the city's Ghanatta College of Art and Design.

From emerging voices to veritable legends, the artists attest the infectious mix of tradition, innovation and collaboration that continues to characterise the output of Accra’s creative communities.

school children walking by the side of a road
view of a garden in Ghana

In the first days of his visit Christian met with Isshaq Ismail and Kwesi Botchway.

Ismail, who continues to field exponential collector interest after a string of dizzying auction results in 2021, uses his art as a tool to make polemic statements, working across a variety of mediums and techniques in a style he dubs ‘Infantile Semi-Abstract’. Last year, having connected on a previous trip to Accra, we collaborated with Ismail to release Talking Faces – a series of 10 original canvases which typify his use of heavy impasto and exuberant colour.

In similarly radiant palettes, Botchway paints more overtly representational portraits which focus on the emotive power of a facial expression. Working in a style he describes as ‘Afro-Impressionism’, Botchway deftly inverts the conventional artist-subject gaze to convey his sitters as confident and comfortable.

Isshaq Ismail kneeling in his studio working on a large painting

Isshaq Ismail

Artist Kwesi Botchway standing outside a gate to an art studio

Kwesi Botchway

In May 2021 Adjei Tawiah and David Doku exhibited together at Gallery 1957's new space in Accra. Inside their studios, we discovered what both artists have been working on in the aftermath of the show – Could You be Loved.

Mentored by fellow Ghanatta College of Art and Design graduate, Amoako Boafo, Doku's work can be recognised by his distinctive use of coconut husks – often as skin – to introduce texture to his portraits. In informal yet incandescent snapshots of the undisturbed everyday, the husks metaphorically link his subjects to tenets of strength, nature and resilience.

Tawiah, meanwhile, conducts explorations of identity via the surfaces and subjects of his intriguingly textured canvases. Steeped in allegory and influenced by the memory of watching his mother’s body being cleansed in a mortuary, his use of sponging alludes poetically to the purging of negative thoughts.

Artist Adjei working on a large portrait

Adjei Tawiah

close-up of a portrait
Artist stood alongside his large colourful painting in his studio

David Doku

One of Ghana's most esteemed craftsmen, Paa Joe carves and paints fantastical coffins that engage notions of reincarnation to celebrate life through art. Beginning his journey as an apprentice in his uncle’s workshop, Paa Joe has since painted more than 2,000 coffins. Challenging modern art’s conventional forms, his fundamentally utilitarian, irrefutably original works have been exhibited worldwide and acquired by two former US presidents.

two wooden coffins by Paa Joe

Paa Joe's Studio

a selection of crafted coffins by Paa Joe

Kofi Awuyah stages everyday scenes in flattened perspective with vibrant amalgamations of line and colour. Traditional ‘Kente’ textiles inspire the patterns and palettes of textured canvases which enshrine the wealth of inspiration Kofi draws from contemporary and traditional African culture.

Akweley Ricco layers bold planes of colour with intricately-collaged surfaces to create striking, mixed media portraits. The patchwork, puzzle-like surfaces of her paintings call to the multifaceted identities of her subjects and the contexts they exist within.

Artist Kofi standing in front of his paintings with a table of his materials

Kofi Awuyah

artist standing next to a large mixed media image

Akweley Ricco

Our penultimate studio visit began courtside at a tournament organised by semi-pro tennis player turned self-taught art world star, Amoako Boafo, accompanied by curator Larry Ossei-Mensah and Daily Paper founders Abderr Trabsini and Jefferson Osei.

In 2017 Boafo began experimenting with finger painting the flesh of his subjects – producing an “expressive skin tone” unattainable with paint brush alone. The artist's subjects span friends, family and chance encounters. In his own words, he sets out to “represent, document, celebrate and show new ways to approach Blackness.”

Amoako Boafo walking by a large painting in his studio

Amoako Boafo

Amoako Boafo sat on a tennis court

two friends looking at a phone sat at a table

Larry Ossei-Mensah & Abderr Trabsini

Alongside his own practice, which has attracted fervorous global attention in recent years, Boafo is an dedicated patron of the arts – most recently collaborating with luxury fashion house Dior to build and establish a new space for artist residencies in the Ghanaian capital.

Interest piqued? If so, keep your eyes open for some exciting collaboration announcements! We’d also love to hear your suggestions on who and where we should visit next.

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