Owusu-Ankomah: uncovering hidden meanings

22 Sep

Microcron-Kusum exhibition at the October Gallery until 29 October 2011

Owusu-Ankomah, Microcron – Kusum No 1, 2011
Acrylic on canvas, 135 x 170 cm.
Image courtesy October Gallery, London

A conversation with the artist, Owusu-Ankomah,
by Eliza Anyangwe


I arrive at the October Gallery just as Owusu-Ankomah is saying to the diverse crowd gathered to see his latest work: “I’m not just magical. I’m miraculous!”  It is immediately evident that for those who are able to appreciate the mystical, this is going to be an interesting night.

The Ghana-born but Germany-based Owusu-Ankomah is certainly one of those people. His latest body of work entitled Microcron-Kusum (Secret Signs – Hidden Meanings), like all the artist’s known works, embraces the mysterious and depicts a spiritual world inhabited by people and symbols.

Owusu-Ankomah’s art can be consumed at many levels. Aesthetically, the large, predominantly black and white canvases, build up in layers: white acrylic is applied on in such a way as to reveal a base colour, then black shapes are arranged across the canvas and, finally, bold naked figures walk, point, sit and play in this landscape. These human figures are both ostensible yet themselves shrouded by symbols.

At its most superficial, his work is like a cosmic ‘Where’s Wally?’ where you try to find the human figures among the geometric shapes. But then, with a little knowledge about the landscapes he’s created, you start to recognise the adinkra symbols of the Akan people of Ghana, Chinese calligraphy and even crop circles, snowflakes and religious iconography.

Speaking to the artist, I start by asking if he is the man in his paintings. The figure repeated in his work is heavily built, like the man himself, and bears an undeniable facial resemblance. I brace myself for tactful yet evasive answer at best or stone cold silence at worst. Instead, I am met with an enthusiastic: “Yes, yes that is me!”

Embolden by his candidness, I press a little further, cautiously asking for permission to enter the artist’s head. I want to know what the larger-than-life figure – himself by his own admission – is grasping at in the paintings. I’m not so ignorant as think Owusu-Ankomah’s work is just a pretty arrangement of shapes but cannot pretend to know its deeper meaning.

“That is the Microcron. All what this exhibition is about,” he offers. “The Microcron is what I call the ultra-microscopic dimension. In this dimension, we discover that there are universes in universes. Every ball of light, every second, contains universes in the same formation.”

I can feel the fog rising in my mind and my face starting to show my confusion, so I pipe up for an explanation: “Are you saying each ball has its own unseen universe?” The chastisement is quick and emphatic: “Oh come on!” he exclaims, “you’re talking about kindergarten stuff! I’m talking about each ball containing universes in the same formation which, from our perception, are infinite. The thing is, it’s all about consciousness.”

I try not to sulk as Owusu-Ankomah finds his stride and enters into teacher-mode: “So you want to know more about the Microcron? You want to blow your mind? Come with me!”  He ushers us in with a question: “Tell me how many strands of hair are there on your head.”
“Innumerable,” I reply.
“That’s it!” he says,  in an accent that is at once recognisably of the West African literati yet tinged with German resonance. “With the right perception, God-consciousness, you know how many universes there are but from our perception, they are infinite.”

I’m starting to warm to my teacher but I’m decidedly still naïve on all things Microcron so I ask if that level of consciousness is attainable. “Of course!” comes the reply.

There is something delightful about the way he bellows, but then he adds: “It is said that people who die can perceive every grain of sand on earth” and at that, the cloud of confusion returns. For all my openness to the unknown, in the presence of Owusu-Ankomah, it is clear that my existence is fairly one-dimensional. This is art for lovers of science-fiction, visible work for those who perceive the invisible.

Positioned in front of one of his canvases, and at one point scribbling on a piece of paper, Owusu-Ankomah talks us (the small crowd that have now gathered around him) through the sacred realms, the figure in pursuit of heightened consciousness, the soul, “the fractal principle of reality” and the micra: “a single ball of light that contains systems of universes in infinite numbers like the hairs of my head or the sand of the sea.” His eyes are lit, his hands wave and his voice rises until he exclaims: “Think about it! How mind-boggling it is! I mean, it just makes me happy to think about it!”

As the night draws to a close and our voyage with the artist nears its end, Owusu-Ankomah, takes the opportunity to educate us about ourselves: “We’ve done mighty things in the past and have impacted the physical realms but we have forgotten who we really are. We were from the beginning so we already have the mastery. It is up to us to manifest it.”

Before we leave, I ask if his art would have been the same had he not left Accra for Bremen. With characteristic candour, he replies: “I do not know. It is as it is. It is my fate and my destiny. And it was also my decision to come to this place, so that now, this is where I have to be – the eternal now.”

Only Owusu-Ankomah can seem to say everything and nothing in the same sentence; to give it all away yet for the true meaning to be hidden from you.

Microcron-Kusum is exhibited at the October Gallery until 29 October 2011

This blog was written by Eliza Anyangwe, a community coordinator at the Guardian, freelance writer and blogger at Product of My Past http://postplasticpeople.wordpress.com/

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