“My work is a window to a different culture, people of color and just a slice of some of our stories,” says artist William Kwamena-Poh. “I believe that one of the easiest ways to communicate and teach others about different cultures is through art.”
On Nov. 14, the Telfair Museum will host an artist talk and reception for William Kwamena-Poh’s upcoming exhibit “The Journey is Mine: Chapter One”. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear Kwamena-Poh discuss his art, methods, and inspiration. “William Kwamena-Poh has been a staple of the Savannah art scene and the studios of City Market since 1995,” said Erin Dunn, curator of the exhibit and Assistant Curator at Telfair Museums.Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters
“Viewers of Kwamena-Poh’s paintings can expect to be struck by the brilliance of the colors and the textured softness of the gouache medium. His paintings often depict everyday scenes of Ghana, his homeland, and he is influenced by the strong sunlight and vivid colors that are commonplace in the country,” says Dunn. Kwamena-Poh’s paintings provides the viewer a glimpse into the daily life and culture of his native country Ghana, West Africa. The photographs that he takes during his trips to Ghana serves as his source material.
“I settled on Ghana and Ghanaian culture because that’s where I'm from and all I know. Through that I can share a bit of myself, but also learn who I am, and where my peeps are from. This allows me to defend my cultures because Ghanaians are not a homogenous country," Kwamena Poh said. "Mine is still a slice of the Akan and a bit of the Ga people. Some of the symbols I weave through my images; the adinkra symbolism is predominantly from Akan culture and that's who I am."
His process includes freehand sketching these photographs onto tracing paper and then transferring the sketches to heavier watercolor paper where he can manipulate the textures to his liking. Using gouache, an opaque watercolor, as his medium allows Kwamena-Poh to portray the vibrancy and beauty of his birthplace. “I like the opacity of the colors; they suit my African background of heat and sunshine,” he said.
The scenes that Kwamena-Poh paints are introspective and illuminating. His method of using his own original photography simultaneously captures an instantaneous moment while keeping it intact. This allows the viewer to exist in that timeline and experience that space. Kwamena-Poh’s paintings transport the viewer to his encounters in Ghanian culture: the hustle and bustle of a local market, the lively and hectic energy of the fishing docks, a tranquil and reflective moment with a Ghanian woman. “Here in the United States, people of color are seen as a homogenous group regardless of the subdivisions that exist within this huge melting pot of colored people. So I am telling my unique journey. I like to tell stories of children, women and men through the lens of fishermen stories," he said.
"I grew up inland away from water, yet it has a fascination for me. The life stories of fishermen and how they are vanishing right now, and the pollution of the oceans and how they are impacted are all stories I would like to bring true.”
“People attending the show who've never seen my work before, should be prepared to see something different from your standard genre of African art," Kwamena-Poh said. "It’s my journey and I ask questions of all kinds. I don't limit myself to just one hue of art expression. There are too many questions to ask to keep your scope narrow. Be like water; fluid." “The Journey is Mine: Chapter One” will be on exhibit at the Jepson Center from Nov. 15, 2019-May 25th, 2020.