Emmanuel ‘Yaw’ Obuobi : Threads of Art
Gallery of African Art (GAFRA), London, United Kingdom14 Jul 2016 - 13 Aug 2016
The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) presents Threads of Art, a solo exhibition of new and recent works by the acclaimed Ghanaian-born UK based artist, Emmanuel ‘Yaw’ Obuobi.
Having previously worked with watercolour and acrylic, Yaw developed his creative process and selected his unique medium of choice – yarn. Inspired by “Kente” (which originates from the Ashanti people of Ghana), a cloth made from silk and cotton fabric that is interwoven to create various patterns. Yaw Obuobi has used “strands of wool” to develop his own technique, “yarn painting” – an engagingly innovative art form. This exhibition highlights his explorations of: culture, memory, beauty, humanity and the hybridity of identity – actualised through his own transatlantic voyages.
For the past four decades Yaw has cultivated and nurtured the art of yarn painting. His technique has lead him to create artworks that give the illusion of brush strokes, but it is only by truly getting “up close” that one realises the detail and Yaw’s exceptional talent. “I connected the threads of Kente to transform the use of yarn as a form of expression, passing on a heritage of a proud people to a form of painting in place of watercolor, acrylics and oils in a flirtation that links cultures and worlds,” says Yaw. By using coloured yarns, playing with texture, weaving, interlocking and layering to ‘paint’, Yaw produces exquisite pieces with depth, fluidity, texture, realism and character.
Yaw Obuobi’s unique art technique has helped him to break molds. While preserving and maintaining his cultural heritage, he acknowledges how his identity has been shaped through his travels from Ghana to Canada and the United Kingdom. His works hold the layered narratives of pan-Africanism, Blackness, cultural performativity and diasporic hybridisation. Like the “strands of wool”, they weave a narrative of the void that is created when worlds of migration, identity and culture collide. Yaw intimates it best: “The threads of our life’s script weave through the years forming exciting patterns which connect the past, present and future. The main focus of ones life and the surrounding backdrop are constantly evolving. Our individual perception of the world is dependent on our life’s themes which consist of sub themes woven together with our life’s script thread.”
‘Threads of Art’ serves as a cultural archive, offering a visual display of socially charged issues at the intersection of: identity, migration, home and belonging. It is a look at his personal expression of time, space, race and gender.
Emmanuel ‘Yaw’ Obuobi was born in Ghana in July 1957. Graduating in Architecture from the University of Science and Technology Kumasi in 1986, Obuobi migrated to Canada to practise architecture whilst simultaneously developing his work as an artist. He experimented with different media, eliding conventional modes of form, shape, colour and texture to create an inimitable medium that paradoxically reverberates with traditional artisanal forms, yet exudes a contemporary vitality; a medium connecting the past to the present and progressing to a (re)imagined future. His first solo work, Sankofa, was exhibited at the British Council in Accra where it provoked deep thought and attention amongst Ghana’s political classes. From here, underpinned with integrity and ancestral respect, his work has gone from strength to strength, with a series of exhibitions, including 2008’s The Phantom of the African Beat, at Washington DC’s International Visions Gallery and a portraits of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duchess of Cambridge received at the Buckingham Palace and Clarence House after meeting Prince Charles.
Both in form and substance, his work transcends the parameters of what it is to be an African artist, defying and contorting these constraints with his innovative form and diverse motifs. The beating pulse of his work is woven through the interplay of light and shadow, sharpness and distortion, movement and stillness. Richly layered narratives captured in his work resonate with diverse audiences across the world, particularly in Accra, London, Baltimore and Washington DC, where his work has been regularly exhibited over the past 25 years. His art is a potent reminder that, irrespective of the land in which we are grounded and rooted, the density of our experience on this planet is connected via the thread of our shared humanity. Yaw lives and works in Birmingham, England.