Afia Prempeh: We Could Be…

Gallery 1957 Presents Afia Prempeh: We Could Be... - Omenka Online

Gallery 1957 is delighted to present the debut solo exhibition by Ghanaian artist Afia Prempeh.

The project is the fruit of a 7-month-long residency with the Gallery at the studios in Accra, Ghana. The exhibition, ‘We Could Be...’, projects the real and imagined lives of a sampling of contemporary women, as told through tales in oil on canvas. Subjects’ personalities unfold through a multiplicity of material expressions, wherein artifacts and sceneries speak as vibrantly as the body or face. Prempeh’s training in landscape and still-life leads to her time-travelling lens on the traditional figure. Her paintings open portals into other worlds and forms. These worlds of Prempeh’s creation meld the ornate aesthetics of classical painting, with cultural vernacular from her immediate environment. Layered compositions bury stories within stories, whose contents both describe and undermine their bigger pictures. What appears to be one thing, could become a multitude of others.

In the artist’s words:
“There’s something deeper about the paintings that even I myself can’t point out. It’s not just the physical—there’s some force behind it. My whole being, my whole soul, is in there. Every single detail is telling a story. My portraiture is not just portraiture: The object can also become the subject.

I started off as a landscape and still-life artist, so when I finally learned to paint the human figure, I wanted to do it differently. Full-figure, classical style, with object and background details. And I wanted to make it about the person. I wanted it to tell a story. This body of work has to do with transition. The subjects are on a journey. I, myself, am also on a journey. It’s a spiritual journey: searching… seeking… believing… I had to go through certain transformations; I had to discover certain things about myself to get here.”

Afia Prempeh (b. 1986 Kumasi, Ghana) is a genre-bending painter whose practice uses aesthetic traditions as a means of hacking them. Her background in still-life and landscape painting informs herinter disciplinary approach to portraiture. A slow-process and detail-oriented perfectionist, Prempeh spent years avoiding the human figure. When she graduated from art school and began supporting herself from commissions, she found that she could not escape requests for portraits. The artist chose to face her fears—while giving her clients more than what they asked for. She would bring in multiple compositional strategies, and she would use the stories of her subjects to explore narrative.

The residency with Gallery 1957 marks the first time Prempeh has had the luxury to develop a solo body of work. Her ongoing struggle to balance her independent interests with market demands thus takes a different shape. Prempeh’s urge for independent practice was nursed during her time in the Kumasi College of Art. She earned her bachelor’s degree in painting from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology(K.N.U.S.T.). in 2009, just as the Department’s cross-genre curricular adjustments were intensifying. Having caught the early drifts of these conceptual currents, Prempeh could be considered among a crop of seedlings from the Kumasi Contemporary’s ‘disorderly garden’.

Her practice continues to sprawl across Kumasi, Accra, and their imaginative extensions. Prempeh’s works have been exhibited in all three end-of-year exhibitions held by blaxTARLINES KUMASI, K.N.U.S.T., with the Ghana Museum and Monuments Board in Accra (‘The Gown Must Go to Town’, 2015; ‘Cornfields in Accra’, 2016; and ‘Orderly Disorderly’, 2017).

This exhibition opens on the 19th of November, 2021 in Gallery III Accra, Ghana and runs through 31 December, 2021.

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