On African Identity, Self-Expression and Displacement
Contemporary Ghanaian artist Ferguson Amo works across a variety of forms including drawing, embroidery, photography, sculpture and mixed media. His work aims to encourage and strengthen the bond of solidarity among Africans living on the continent and in diaspora. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about growing up in Ghana, migrating to the United States and the role culture plays in the discourse between generations of African and African-Americans.
Please tell us a bit about growing up in Ghana, moving to the United States, and how these places have affected your art
Growing up in Ghana was great. Due to my circumstances, I was introduced to the struggles of life at a pretty young age. When I was just 2 years old, my father left for the United States, so I didn’t know much about him. I was raised by my single mother, in a compound, in a small town known as Koforidua. We were very poor and she supported us with her small business, which consisted of selling cooking utensils by the roadside. She was a very busy woman, so she travelled a lot. I either travelled with her or was left at home with a family friend. At age 12, my father presented us with an opportunity to move to the United States. It was a dream come true to see him, as well as reside in a country where everyone lived lavishly or so I thought until we moved. The changes in culture, language barrier, adapting to new things, and meeting diverse people have all affected my art.
What got you interested in studying art?
Ever since I was born, I have always had a love and passion to create, draw and design. I enjoy drawing to present beauty, as well as alter people’s emotions. I want to be able to express my visions to resonate with a large group of people.
What role does the African identity and culture play in your work?
African identity and culture play an important role in my work. Our perception of what is right or wrong is worth being treasured. It is pertinent to examine some of the changes in African identity and culture, as well as the problems of adjustment.
You are currently studying at the School of Visual Arts, New York. How has the experience been so far?
It is an interesting experience coming from a business and accounting undergraduate education straight to an art world graduate school. What is most interesting is how people familiar with the art world process an artwork compared to those who aren’t. What is challenging is expressing myself in “artistic language.” It’s been a great experience so far.
You express yourself through a variety of forms including drawing, embroidery, photography, sculpture and mixed media. What is the rationale behind working in these forms?
The rationale is having the freedom to express my ideas in different forms, presenting different forms of experiences to the audience.
Kindly tell us a bit about your creative process.
My drawings begin with photography. I stage my ideas then create a photo shoot. The photos become reference images for drawing. When I draw, I manipulate and play with the image and material. For sculpture, I begin by playing around with many ideas, as well as the material. Then I allow the artwork to choose what works best.
“Amo investigates the discourse between generations of African culture and African-American culture”. Please tell us more about this statement.
Culture is an embodiment of different values, all of them closely related. That’s why one can meaningfully talk about social, religious, political, aesthetic and even the economic values of a culture. It is relevant to examine changes in African culture among generations and the diaspora, as well as problems of adjustment.
Is there any project you are presently working on that you would like to share with us?
Yes, there are many ideas for projects I am working on right now such as the empowerment of Black women’s identity.
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