It’s a great pleasure to introduce African Art Wave’s artist of the month, Bright Ackwerh.
Bright is an internationally known, Ghanian born, artist. One we’ve been following for many years now. If you haven’t heard of him yet, then we’re glad to welcome you to the Bright club! He’s known for using paint, digital media, illustration and street art to create thought provoking satirical statements.
Some may describe his art as controversial, as pushing socio political and religious boundaries or describe it as eye opening and extremely amusing. One thing we can all agree on, is that his art has definitely created a flurry of conversation and dialogue across west Africa.
He was the 2016 recipient of Ghana’s Kuenyehia Prize for Ghanaian Contemporary art and was also named one of the top artists in 2017 Barclays L’atelier. His art has been exhibited in a number of galleries, from Gallery 1957 in Ghana, to Raw Spot Gallery in South Africa.
It was a pleasure to speak with Bright and discuss a range of topics, from his art style to his views on the international art market.
Mary: Tell our AAW audience a little more about yourself and your style of art.
Bright: I am a very simple young boy. Lol. I come from an immediate family of six but our family is an extended one typical of many African homes so it’s almost impossible to number them all. I live and work from Accra in Ghana’s capital. A lot of people may know me for my work but I also love playing action and e-sport video games mainly because I love the game of football and I am fascinated by how video games mimic real life in animation medium. I love swimming too as a hobby and being by the beach and water, in general, helps me think. I also love playing football and perhaps if I didn’t end up choosing a life in art I’d have tried to play professionally from my country Ghana. lol.
I went to school at Accra Academy and then proceeded to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology where I earned a BFA and MFA in fine art. I didn’t start my art making journey making the kind of work I do now but a lot has evolved about me and continue to so I am also keen to see what comes next. I love collaborating with other artists on joint projects and I have done that quite a lot in the recent past.
Mary: Describe the feeling you would want us to experience when viewing your work?
Bright: ‘oh my GOD! he didn’t say that!’ I’m always trying to push the boundaries of what is ‘OK’ to say in my work. In the last few pieces, I have tried to ‘turn up the volume’ a bit more than I have in the past. It’s quite easy to get the audience laughing too but I always want them to go beyond that and see the more charged but often subtly spoken aspects of the work that discusses the serious issues that inspire me.
I want the audience to see the world and relive some of the experiences I paint about through my eyes, and perhaps see the world the way I am seeing and experiencing it too. Most of all I would like them to know it’s perfectly okay to ask even the most difficult questions of our political elite if we are going to continue expecting that they are held to some account.
Mary: What mediums do you generally work with?
Bright: I enjoy painting and drawing with both traditional and digital mediums and, in the last few years, I have been exploring with painting digitally because of the convenience and how it lends itself very well to sharing work digitally.
Mary: How would you describe the art scene in Ghana? Accra, for example, is deemed one of Africa’s art capitals – do you think this is the case?
Bright: The art scene in Ghana, especially in the capitals of Accra, Kumasi and recently Tamale, has been on the ascendency. It’s very positive that the world’s attention has been directed to the space in general because of the ambassadorial exploits of some of the creatives who are based here on the world stage. Hopefully this attention helps for the much needed structures to be established so that many more talents from here can thrive.
Mary: A few of your pieces have caused some bouts of commotion across Ghana and internationally. Can you talk us through one of your most controversial pieces?
Bright: I wouldn’t call it controversial … but I can easily refer to a series of paintings I made and shared in 2017 detailing some unlawful activities of Chinese nationals and their Ghanaian accomplices in the local mining sector. The Chinese had taken great stakes in this and were being allowed to break all the laws … perhaps due to the fact that our government is heavily indebted to theirs. This also resulted in them destroying the environment with their heavy equipment and with some measure of impunity too. I made one painting (We Dey Beg, 2017) highlighting an incident where the state minister in charge of the said sector actually begged the Chinese ambassador to speak with their people in Ghana to put a stop to their activities. The painting generated a lot of interesting dialogues including an infamous press conference by the Chinese Embassy where a stern warning was issued to the Ghanaian government about how the press and artists were reacting to the whole issue. They further stated that if the Ghanaian government didn’t act, bilateral relations between the two countries would suffer.
Mary: What is your main goal as an artist?
Bright: Right now I think of myself as a historian of sorts. Documenting episodes in popular culture that would have been overlooked in the crafting of the grand narratives and in doing so, it’s my goal to record and share as many of these art works as I possibly can. I love the conversations and dialogues my work generates so it’s also my goal to spark as many of these conversations and possibly inspire some social change through it all.
Mary: How does the African art market differ to other international markets? In what ways does our market need to develop in order to allow artists to thrive within Africa and abroad?
Bright: The only major difference I can state right now is the international markets as you call it have been established for longer so their structures are better known as compared to what is still emerging on the continent. The fact that it has to be a whole continent compared to maybe individual countries is quite telling already. Art fairs on the continent have been growing steadily though and are becoming more critically accepted. I guess what would be the deal breaker will be to see more buyers from here as well so that work from artists here don’t necessarily have to go through western markets to gain validation. Space also has to be made always for less established artists to show their works in these spaces so we are not caught recycling the same old names and faces.
Mary: Have you ran into any political / legal difficulties due to the barriers and political buttons your work pushes?
Bright: I have not had and issues with the law or political ‘big heads’ yet, but hopefully my new series would do that. An older political cartoonist I look up told me that has to happen at least once for me to earn my stripes. Lol. I have had a few doors and ‘opportunities’ shut in my face though because of my work and that is actually always encouraging to me.
Mary: What inspires you to create?
Bright: When you live in Ghana as an artist like I do, there is always content for you to research and create about. It’s as though politicians act out these absurd episodes just to get drawn and made fun of.
Mary: What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned?
Bright: Work is important but so is the rest of your life. Don’t over focus on this one aspect only to suffer everywhere else.