The #MESHConfab is an event that looks to bring together some of the best of Ghana’s creative community to network and share their innovative ideas and products. Last year, we brought you some of the highlights, this time, we’re getting to know two artists changing the game in Ghana’s creative space – Bright Ackwerh (@brightackwerh) and Mohammed Awudu (@mohawudu).
Somewhere along the Kanda highway is a concrete wall covered by a multiplicity of hues, and Ghana’s past and present. The intricate brushstrokes of violet and white that form Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah’s gentle smile oftentimes catches the attention of those strolling by, who then stop for a few minutes to take in more of the patriotic artwork: cocoa pods, barrels of oil and a funky calligraphed ‘freedom’.
32-year-old Mohammed Awudu is the genius behind this. He says he’s been an artist for more than half of his life and since junior high school, chalkboards and canvases have been the home for Awudu’s curiosity and creativity. On them, he’d sketch and slap on some color as a response to a headline he’d heard on the radio or something interesting he’d seen on his walk home from the neighborhood corner store. Now Awudu is moving beyond these bounds, still with his penchant for detail, but in search of a bigger audience.
“Graffiti and street art comes with a large audience, that’s why I’m into it right now. You can’t really miss paintings on the street.”
According to Accra-based Awudu, with a larger audience, comes heftier messages – messages that speak to the emancipation of thought and unlocking one’s potential. He told me he uses women as symbolic characters to get these messages across.
“Sometimes, we Africans and Ghanaians, we see women as vulnerable. And the outside world, they see Africans like women, a people who are not capable. Women can’t do this and can’t do that. No. Women are strong and have a lot of responsibilities. They can do many things. It’s the same way we as Africans, Ghanaians, and even artists are more powerful than we imagine. We can create flying cars and have solar powered communities. Our art can encourage someone, it can push them to do something they wouldn’t do before. The children from my community, Nima, they can become something even though people think badly of the place sometimes. I feel that I have to let people know this.”
It is with similar enthusiasm that Awudu looks forward to participating in this year’s #MESHConfab for the first time. He said he’s excited to be in the midst of like-minded creatives,
“The confab supports up-and-coming artists and I love that. I will get to meet some of them. A lot of talented Ghanaian artists are doing crazy, good things. Trust me. So I’m going to get to see that and learn new things, and I’m going to step it up. That’s how you grow as an artist.”
Many art lovers (and those who just like a good laugh) know 26-year-old Bright Ackwerh as the 2016 Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian Art winner and satirical cartoonist who jumps in on everything from the jollof debate to Bukom Banku’s newfound interest in politics and Ace Hood-Sarkodie ventures. But at this year’s #MESHConfab, Akwerh will be trading in his illustration tools for paintbrushes, taking to canvas with a live demo.
When I sat down to chat with Ackwerh, he was noticeably excited about his upcoming performance this weekend. The steady grin and fidgety fingers said it all. This will be his second time participating in a #MESHConfab. Trying not to give too much away, he steered the conversation towards something he calls “violent knowledge”, a tool used in his works and one he believes more and more Ghanaian creatives are making use of.
“For me art is the production of knowledge. It showcases what we know now and it produces future knowledge. So even though my work has satirical references caricature style and sometimes fantasy, there’s always that underlying counter or violent narrative that goes against popular narratives that I don’t find to be fair or true. Think of it as a reaction to an issue or just having something new to say. And when you have something new to say, so will the people who see your art. It generates salient discussions.”
The Son’s Tear, Ackwerh’s favorite piece of work, is an example of the aforementioned. It features a remorseful Barack Obama, hands smothered in blood and on his knees as the late Muammar Gaddafi, clothed in his iconic white robe, gazes into the distance with a tear streaming down his face. Ackwerh said the illustration alludes to the Biblical story of the prodigal son. It also sought to unpack various complexes embedded in US-Libyan relations, including Gaddafi repeatedly referencing the American leader as a “son”, Obama’s recently revealed sentiments about the US military intervention in Libya and what Ackwerh believes were efforts being made by Gaddafi to bring Africa economic independence from the West.
Ackwerh said this work has been his most “viral and charged” piece of work to date on social media and that was the goal he had set out for himself, when he began working on the graphic illustration earlier this year.
While Ackwerh is thrilled to show off his skills at #MESHConfab 2016, he said he’s also expecting to see a new group of participants. Not established or emerging artists but those who’ve got the potential and are yet to tap into it. For them, a word from a keynote speaker or a moment at the expo, will do the trick.
To learn more about the work they do, what’s up with Ghana’s creative spaces and what to look forward to at this year’s event, follow the MESH Ghana event page on Facebook and to see who else will be there.