By John Owoo
(In Accra – Ghana)
Paintings that recall 19th Century expeditions by Europeans on the African continent by UK based Ghanaian painter Godfried Donkor is currently underway at the Galleria Mall, Kempinski Hotel in Accra.
Titled “The First Day of the Yam Custom 1818”, the paintings, which are based on an image by the British adventurer, author and zoologist Thomas Edward Bowdich, explore and expose the contractions that surround such images that were circulated largely in Europe.
The Yam custom, which is without doubt, an important event in the Asante calendar, marks the first harvest of yams and equally involves various forms of tributes to the King, who is usually adorned in gold and surrounded by dozens of paramount chiefs, chiefs and subjects.
Indeed, the festival has both religious and economic significance – religiously, the festival is used to thank the Asante gods and ancestors for the new harvest and to traditionally outdoor the new yam while celebrating a bumper harvest that will ensure food security and economic growth.
In a large-scale work, Donkor vividly depicts the late King Osei Bonsu (1804 – 1824) in the midst of a procession. The items he wears have been chosen to symbolize his fearless leadership and to indicate his role as the guardian of his people alongside flags that represent European countries that trade with the Asante Kingdom.
Built upon a process of mural painting and transported by the energy of applied social utopia, the repainting of Bowdich’s original illustration unfolds within the collective subconscious of belonging to the vast and thick layers of blackness.
With the revival of this work, Donkor draws parallels between analogies of the past and the present. From this perspective, contexts, events and practices are free for transfer and reinterpretation.
Affected, concerned and subjected to the abundant manifestations of white power, the artist’s work challenges the global mainstream’s embrace of notions of transformation and progress, while humorously poking fun at the status quo – whose only transformative and open-minded nature lies in a change of packaging.
In repainting Bowdich’s foundational drawing, Donkor combines historical and sociological accounts with a contemporary artistic understanding of a work, which triggered British appetite for Ghana, and paved the way for the scramble for gold.
The exhibition, which is being curated by Koyo Kouoh ends on Monday October 30 2017.