Serge Attukwei Clottey: On Exploring Socio-Political Issues and Confronting Material Culture
Serge Attukwei Clottey is known for work that examines the powerful agency of everyday objects. Working across installation, performance, photography and sculpture, Clottey explores personal and political narratives rooted in histories of trade and migration. Based in Accra and working internationally, Clottey refers to his work as “Afrogallonism”, a concept that confronts the question of material culture through the utilisation of yellow gallon containers. Cutting, drilling, stitching and melting found materials, Clottey’s sculptural installations are bold assemblages that act as a means of inquiry into the languages of form and abstraction. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about ‘Afrogallonism’, public spaces and his participation at Art Basel Miami
You refer to your work as “Afrogallonism”. Please enlighten us about this concept and the significance of the gallon in your work in terms of its materiality and performative quality.
I started using gallon containers as a material over 17 years ago, which is where ‘Afrogallonism’ first started. The containers are significant to Ghana as they are a symbol of Ghana’s relationship with the West – also highlighting other environmental and consumerist issues. Completing the cycle, I transform the plastic into works of art which are then sold back to the West.
How has your time studying in Ghana and Brazil impacted your creative process?
My father is a more ‘traditional’ painter, so when he enrolled me in art school in Ghana, I naturally created more traditional works too. However, my study in Brazil allowed me explore my practice much more and my work subsequently became conceptual. It was valuable for me as an artist to be allowed this exploration in two extremely different creative environments – without both educations, I would not be the artist I am today.
You employ your work as socio-commentary to address gender roles, politics and economic trade in Ghana. What function does art play in social reformation in the community?
I am interested in the way that art can be used to explore socio-political issues currently in Ghana. By addressing these themes in my work, especially through public performance (I regularly collaborate with my performance collective GoLokal), engage the public in a different way, opening up conversations to people who might not have been given the platform.
My Mother’s Wardrobe was your inaugural exhibition at Gallery 1957 in Accra. Please tell us more about it.
My Mother’s Wardrobe was an extremely personal project for me where I explored the power and significance held within personal clothing. In my culture, a woman’s richness lies in her closet, and kente, the fabric of the Ashante people, is the most valued of them all. The sculptures, performance and photographs from this exhibition incorporated the memories of my mother, held within these fabrics.
You embrace installation, performance, photography and sculpture; how do you combine these separate disciplines in your work and which takes precedence?
These different elements are combined in the time I spend in my studio. The materials that I use also play a big role as it’s quite a performative process to source and use materials people would normally throw away. I want to highlight the relationship between waste and humans and show that someone threw away the object used but it has been transformed into something new.
It’s also important for me to be bringing art closer to the people. The things that happen around us and in the country influence and inspire us to come up with new performance ideas. Not everybody in Ghana understands the kind of contemporary art we do. Thinking of moving our work from galleries to public spaces and then to individuals also influences our ideas. It’s less about precedence and more about how best these media can translate our ideas to the wider public.
You achieved international recognition long before being recognised in your home country. What would you say is responsible for this seeming but common anomaly amongst many successful African artists?
For me, it has always been about translating the stories of my Ghanaian and African community in my work. I feel my art is getting international recognition right now because many people, especially Black people across the world, can relate to the narratives I explore. The biggest challenge has always been to get people locally to understand the importance of art within a community, however gradually — as the art scene has expanded here in Accra, consequently helping to develop my career.
Amidst growing criticisms of Facebook’s offer of free Internet service in Africa as a ploy to corner the market in one of the world’s biggest mobile data growth regions, how significant is Kusum Gboo Ga at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco?
Kusum Gboo Ga (Tradition Never Dies) explores the concepts which confront material culture through utilising the yellow gallon container. Facebook’s headquarters is on the coast, similarly to my studio in La, Accra which is a coastal town. It was important to me to think about how the work would translate, against the backdrop of a new coast and continent.
Kindly share with us your presentation at UNTITLED, Art Basel Miami, and what you think is the impact of international art fairs like this on an African artist’s career.
I will be showing a series of new drawings and wall sculptures for the first time in Miami at UNTITLED. Art from the African continent is becoming more visible but it’s of the utmost importance that international platforms such as fairs and museums bolster and nurture the careers of young artists. Fairs such 1-54 provide a stage for young African artists to present internationally, which might not have been as achievable when I was starting my career.
Why do you think there is an increased demand for art, from the African continent and its related diaspora, and what does its future hold?
I think that the increased demand for art from the African continent has occurred for some time now, with the growth in an international collector base, especially here in Ghana. Social media has definitely helped to increase global awareness and was a platform I found particularly useful when I first began to make work. The future looks very promising for contemporary African art – judging from its current trajectory, it can only go from strength to strength!
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