Q & A with the fascinating Yaw Owusu

Time Out caught up with acclaimed artist Yaw Owusu and chatted about his recent exhibition 'All That Glitters' at Gallery 1957.
Yaw Owusu, (Detail) Resurrence, 2017, Coins on Plywood, 52 in diameter. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra
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Time Out: Your use of pesewa coins has become your artistic calling card of sorts. Were there any other materials that came as a close second?

Yaw Owusu: At the beginning I mostly painted, but I have always been interested in the processes of transformation, and as such, started experimenting with reactions between other materials like aluminum and steel.  

T O: The treatment the coins undergo to change colour is complex. Was it a period of trial and error to achieve your desired result, or did you sincerely have to learn some chemistry?

Y.O: My encounter with these treatment outcomes was initially by chance – when some coins had contact with seawater during a project at the beach in Cape Coast. However, my little senior high school background in chemistry contributed enormously to the freedom to experiment with several elements and conditions, and I must admit I had no specific idea of what the reactions and activities could yield; I still don’t try to guess what might happen (even though some might be easily predictable).

T O: How has Accra changed since you were a boy?

Y.O: I grew up mostly in Kumasi as a kid, but I had the opportunity to see most of the other parts of the country. Accra, as the capital, always demonstrated the greatest change each time I revisited, due to the fact that most developmental projects and businesses’ head offices were centralised there.

T O: To survive in Accra, one has to be somewhat savvy and entrepreneurial. What creative ideas have you seen in the city and have been impressed by?

Y.O: I have noticed the city’s growing awareness of globalization, and it’s fascinating how people have clung to exploring possibilities with technology. It is seamless to navigate through the city and operate through things like social media, and other platforms, to survive like you would in any other great international cities. Of course you need to be smart to know which trends to go along with, but it isn’t so hard to become more informed about things with the online services available in Accra today.

T O: Which contemporary artist do you admire?

Y.O: The ideologies of minimalism primarily fascinate me and works by Richard Serra for his scale and attention to materiality and space. In terms of contemporary practice I admire El Anatsui, Serge Clottey and Ibrahim Mahama.

T O: Is Ghana a good place for young artists to practice their work?

Y.O: There is an interesting art space sparking up over the past few years in Ghana. The availability of rich content is interesting and definitely makes it a very great place to start an art career as a young artist. With the opening of Gallery 1957, as well as already existing institutions and Ghana-based collectors, a career as artist has become more of a reality in Ghana than it used to be.

T O: What would you say to young Ghanaians who are considering studying the arts?

Y.O: I believe art starts from within. Anyone interested in, or with the passion to study, art should be willing to learn extensively, experiment without boundary and - most importantly follow – their heart.

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