‘No matter who you are, there is something innate that can illuminate a part of our world, so simply shine.’ – Awurabena Gaisie
In 2021, the New Narratives team put a call out for young artists from countries of Africa and the UK to submit project proposals that creatively interpret the New Narratives research as a way to further disseminate the research and bridge the consumption gap amongst young people.
Awurabena Gaisie was one of the 12 selected artists commissioned to interpret the 158-page New Narratives report. A few hectic months later, Awurabena delivered The Exchange - a two-weeks art exhibition focused on her three-part (13 pieces) art collection titled 'One and The Same'.
Awurabena is a 24-year-old artist passionately seeking to explore her creative talents professionally. A first-class graduate in textile design from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, she enjoys painting landscapes and seascape sceneries. Prior to her New Narratives project, The Exchange, Awurabena painted her first public mural for a Junior High School in Eastern Region, Ghana.
I speak to Awurabena about her art exhibition, The Exchange, funded by the British Council New Narratives Programme.
Adora: Maybe I should start by asking how Awurabena is doing. How are you? It's been months of back-to-back work, painting, research, planning, and your exhibition; phew! How do you feel?
Awurabena Gaisie: I feel amazing! Completing such a project has been a great booster for my self-confidence and appreciation for my art. I did feel relief after completion (laughs), but that was only momentary.
Adora: I completely understand that; finishing is hard. Let's talk a bit about your project. You are one of the 12 selected grantees for the New Narratives Artist Commission, and you delivered a project called The Exchange. Tell me more about it - what story were you trying to tell with The Exchange?
Awurabena Gaisie: The Exchange focused on highlighting black and white. My theme was black and white because I wanted to express how well those two colours complement each other. Whether black or white, we all possess individual values that are necessary for the development of humankind. It was to communicate unity and equality. I mean, should it really matter the colour of my skin? The collection is titled 'One and the Same?' and comprises 13 pieces divided into three chapters; 1. Mindshift 2. Revalued, and 3. Cohesion. Each chapter narrates a portion of the entire tale.
Adora: That's quite an interesting angle. Can you shed more light on these three chapters and how they piece together to tell the full story?
Awurabena Gaisie: Sure, I will start with Mindshift:
This chapter is a collection of 5 pieces that emphasise the need to have a change in perspective. The mind is where it all begins, therefore putting the mind right will change the narrative. It comprises - Pieces: 1. Black Starlite 2. Miss-perceptions 3. Old news 4. The exchange 5. Illuminate
Revalued: This is a collection that expresses royalty and wealth. It is to show how valuable a person is, and the need to start seeing everyone that way. All the paintings are faceless because the focus is on the human and not their origin. Comprises - Pieces: 1. Asetsenapa 2. In-divid-dual 3. One new man 4. Ntuatua
Cohesion: This is an image expressed through the joining of four pieces. It is so to communicate cohesion and unity. The main technique used was marbling. Black and white patterns show how these two colours are beautiful together. The relationship between Africans and the British need to be fostered.
Adora: Brilliant! One of my favourite pieces from your showcase is 'Illuminate' from chapter one. It's so beautiful to look at, and it leaves so many questions, at least for me. I know art can be interpreted in so many forms, but you are the artist here, so tell me what Illuminate is about from your point of view.
Awurabena Gaisie: The piece "Illuminate” is based on scripture. Matthew 5:16. This piece was completed in 2021, but it was a perfect addition to the story. It simply tells you to shine in your little corner. No matter who you are, there is something innate that can illuminate a part of our world, so simply shine.
Adora: Simply shine, I love that. Tell me about In-divid-dual. I couldn't quite get over the richness and how it embodies an identity. What is the story?
Awurabena Gaisie: In- (divided) - dual (2); isn’t it interesting how a word that communicates one, has syllables that can mean a duo? The woman is painted in both black and white, meaning she doesn’t really belong to a specific 'societal group', she is just what she is, a person, an individual. It also highlights the need to eliminate stereotypes based on race. She is clothed in colourful African print fabric and beads because I wanted to equally portray my essence. But then again, does it really matter? Whether silk or cotton or gele (Nigerian headgear) or duku (Ghanaian headgear) or a tiara, we are who we are, people.
'Working on the Exchange Project was nothing but fun. I loved every bit of it, even the stress that came with it (laughs.) It was my goal to communicate oneness and the irrelevance of race when it comes to human value. It was amazing, and I would not mind doing it all over again.' - Awurabena Gaisie
Adora: I have to say, Awuranena, that I genuinely appreciate how each piece tells a story and how all stories are connected. One of the goals of the New Narratives programme is to address problematic narratives of countries of Africa and the UK. Your project, The Exchange, is now a major part of this programme. How do you think that other artists and creatives can, through their art, contribute to amplifying plural narratives of countries of Africa and the UK?
Awurabena Gaisie: I believe everyone’s uniqueness in itself is a major contribution. The use of diverse art to express the various themes is exciting to see. I will say that their bold, unapologetic, and familiar expression of their interpretation of the message will be a good way to help.
Adora: This is your first exhibition, and I thought you did exceptionally well. Was it as you imagined? Do you feel you could have done things a bit differently?
Awurabena Gaisie: Honestly, I did not know what to expect. I was excited that more people could have the opportunity to see my work, but I tried my best not to tense myself with certain standards. For my first, I am grateful for how it went, and of course, the subsequent ones will surely exceed the prior.
Adora: What will Awurabena be doing a few months from now? Should we be looking forward to more exhibitions? Any projects in the pipeline?
Awurabena Gaisie: I am looking forward to polishing my painting through studies and art course pursuits. I am currently open to academic opportunities that can help me enhance my skill and art intellect. The Sip and Paint event was quite enjoyable, so I definitely look forward to hosting more of that in the near future.
The Exchange is part of the British Council New Narratives (2021) Artist Commission, which has successfully disseminated the New Narratives Research to thousands of audiences, triggered conversation around narratives of Africa and the UK, and empowered emerging creatives from countries of Africa and the UK.
Adora Ajuzie is a Nigerian creative writer and storyteller working to amplify new stories of Africa.