One of a Kind Photograph.
Burnt and set in resin.
Unveiled at The Darkroom Exhibition held at The Brixton Art Gallery in 1999 as an Alchemical Installation between fire, air and chemical elements.
unSEEN Peek™ – “AKOBEN” aka “THE CALLER” captures a serendipitous moment in time bestowed upon the renowned British-Jamaican photographer and cultural iconographer Kofi Allen during his first trip to Ghana in 1993.
2019 is a potent year for Pan-Africanism and Kofi’s explanation of the seminal “Akoben” image.
This new year marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English Colony of Virginia; now within the independent United States of America.
In commemoration, 2019 has been proclaimed as The Year of Return for Africans of the Diaspora by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo.
This is a great act that ensures the doors of “No Return” that enslaved Africans were trafficked through centuries ago are now open arms for their descendants wishing to return to their ancestral motherland to resettle and build sustainable futures.
2019 was rung in by a small galaxy of Diaspora stars including Naomi Campbell, Rosario Dawson, Idris Elba, Morgan Heritage, Tarrus Riley, Gabourey Sidibe and Michael Jai White on Ghanaian soil at the Full Circle Festival.
The stars all aligned in celebration of the historic moment, their own personal pilgrimage and are heralds of a bright future for those yet to return for either a vacation or new beginning.
In 1993, Kofi visited Ghana in contrast to Jamaica where his parents had urged him to return to capture the social elements emerging from the island’s heightening bravado culture.
Whilst in Ghana, the ancient homeland of his Maroon forebears, Kofi made his way to pay homage to his ancestors at the enslavement fort Elmina Castle.
En route, he made a random visit to Sekondi-Takaoradi, the twin city comprised of adjacent port cities in the Western Region of Ghana.
As he travelled, a series of recurring dreams led Kofi to go on a quest that he was unaware would usher the supernatural into the physical realm…
One morning, after the repeat of a dream of a child on a bridge holding a trumpet, Kofi asked his friend Joe whether he had a trumpet.
He did not and had no idea of anyone else in possession of the brass instrument.
On the same day, Joe’s musician cousin arrived from The Netherlands and presented him with a unexpected gift from his uncle.
When the surprise package was opened it held a trumpet.
“Is this what you were looking for?”
It was exactly that.
That same day, the men set off to visit another friend and came upon the rickety bridge used by all villagers to cross a dividing body of water.
Whilst the men appraised the safety of the ancient seeming bridge, a young boy stood there as if waiting for Kofi.
As Kofi remembered his dream, the boy grabbed the trumpet.
Kofi set the boy on the bridge and documented The Moment.
Jimmy Cliff’s prophetic song “Many Rivers to Cross” came to mind as in the moment of immortalisation, Paradise seemed to be the land on the other side of the bridge, as the young Ghanaian boy handled the trumpet in a spiritual stance resonant of the manner in which Kofi’s Maroon ancestors in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains used the abeng horn to rally troops and communicate across terrain in complex code during times of resistance.
AKOBEN is the Adinkra symbol of Vigilance and Wariness as well as the horn used to summon warriors to the battlefield.
This metaphysical symbol takes on a profound element in Kofi’s work: his New World loyalty to his Old World Ghanaian genealogy via his Maroon bloodline, his devotion to capturing the sacred and mundane in each still image his camera lens captures and his service to contemporary and future people of African descent in immortalising human subjects and moments in time in compositions that speak more than volumes of present words and future histories.
2019 is indeed a kismet year for Kofi to cast an inspired eye over his archive and utilise his rich body of work as a both a cultural bridge between Ghana and Jamaica and a medium of exchange that bridges both the social and spiritual worlds in the philosophy and action of true pan-Africanism.
Kofi has accepted an invitation from Edge Of The World Productions, the company officially endorsed by The Government of Ghana, The Ghanaian Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Creative Culture, The Ghana Tourist Authority as well as The Government of Jamaica, The Jamaican Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport and The Jamaica Tourist Board amongst other institutions to execute the inaugural JaGha Festival which will take place on 9th-10th March in Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana.
In his role of Cultural Ambassador, Kofi will showcase his photographic work and new project BORDERLESS: Kings + Queens within Jamaica House – a display of Jamaican Arts – and as a highlight exhibition at Elmina Castle.
KOFI ALLEN is a London-based artist of Jamaican origin.
He is known for a distinctive and arresting photographic aesthetic and multicultural narrative which challenges stereotypes, provokes universal emotions, ignites social dialogue and strikes philosophical accords.
Throughout his career he has consistently captured the social zeitgeist and created cultural iconography across variant African diaspora nations – including the United Kingdom, Jamaica and the United States of America – and diverse and evolving musical genres from Funk to Acid Jazz through Reggae to Hip Hop.
As an Auteur, Kofi encompasses Nature, Emotion and Humanity as both his Muse and Medium.
His work is often anchored in natural elements from subject to substance, including works upon wood and metal and set within resin, adding a unique and distinctive third dimension to the medium of Photography which he instinctively divines, composes and expresses in alignment with the Golden Mean.
Kofi has exhibited at many British and international galleries including The Brixton Art Gallery, Christie’s, Ecco-Homo Kunsthal, Mall Galleries, Neue Galerie New York, The Royal Academy Of Arts, The Royal College of Arts, Museum Harlem, The Stephen Lawrence Gallery and Szombatheley Art Gallery.
His work is within the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery and The Hayward Gallery where he has also successfully exhibited.
Kofi has participated in several philanthropic shows in support of organisations including The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Street Child and The United Nations and is collected by some of the world’s most discerning and enlightened Art connoisseurs.
IN 2017, KOFI ALLEN undertook a Commission to create a holistic and alchemical Fine Art work that captured the brand spirit and energised the space of the Hatton Garden showroom of an A:S&H Client.
WE WORKED TOGETHER to my brief to explore the metaphysical properties and material allure of Carbon: the element upon which diamonds, gold and the human body are based.
KOFI ENVISIONED and created the work and equation CARBON ÷ ALCHEMY = LIFE
THE BESPOKE WORK OF ART was produced as an A0 (33.1 x 46.8 in) photograph which was Dibond printed with a brush stroke finish on an aluminum panel to an arresting metalline finish.
WE PERFECTLY SHOWCASED the brand’s innate understanding and intimate working relationship with the Earth’s most precious minerals through the stages of raw earth resource extraction to rough industrial material production to the masterful formation and finishing of bespoke fine jewellery pieces.
A HOLISTIC AND METAPHYSICAL ACCORD was evoked which has since positively charged the Client’s space and notably impacted upon customer engagement and purchasing empowerment.
AS CREATIVE DIRECTOR of the jewellery atelier, I decided to honour Mr. Allen’s exceptional bespoke creation and was inspired to create a metaphysical token of A:S&H and the Client’s appreciation.
A:S&H built upon the Artistic Commission brief and continued our joint exploration of the metaphysical properties of the Earth’s precious materials in considered synchronicity and deep spiritual alignment with Mr. Allen’s characteristic nature and core being to design a totemic Pinky Ring of great potency to its wearer and inspiration to its beholders.
As Mr Allen is a leader whom many follow within the photographic and Fine Art worlds, after choosing the appropriate gemstone, I decided that a cabochon cut was preferable to a faceted stone as the convex obverse is reminiscent of a camera’s lens.
The gemstone I best-fit to his finger also exhibited asterism – a star-like concentration of refracted light – mindfully selected to mirror his KA logo to a significant degree, further empowering the brief with KA (light from the higher dimensions).
The stone’s aventurescent – optical reflectance – qualities mimicked the flash of his camera whilst drawing observant eyes and enquiring minds towards the piece.
Researching and designing Kofi‘s ring was a highlight of my time with the brand:
Ancient stories were retold via a modern design programmed to set a new trend whilst disseminating my Client‘s brand agenda and building upon A:S&H’s Luxury Goods and Services consultancy and our core specialism of creatively and conscientiously aligning Economics, Nature, Marketing and Metaphysics.
After working closely on both the Fine Art Commission and leading the Fine Jewellery design project that would look great upon Mr. Allen’s skin, the time to go beneath the surface and find out more about the Artist seems just right…
IN THE BEGINNING there was Clive Allen.
Tell me about your voyage of discovery through Photography to become the man and Artist that you are today…
I discovered Photography nearly upon chance and it immediately grasped my aspirations to explore people.
That’s the initial introduction I had into Photography, by literally stumbling into a camera shop and picking up a mirror lens and it teleporting me across the way.
I realised that there was a window into the lives of others that made me feel empowered to tell their story.
I then went on into self-development in Photography: I did not have any formal education as such, so it was more about me pursuing it as a vocation alongside my other profession.
Whilst working and studying Electronics, I was lucky enough to find synergy with a gentleman with a modelling agency and together we established a photographic studio.
We set up in about 1996 or 1997. I pursued the Editorial, honing my skills documenting all the models in his agency.
I started really in Fashion, Beauty, understanding lighting, the technical challenges and all the other things that come with becoming a mainstream photographer.
In between, myself and some other creative minds were working just beneath where i-D magazine was based and enjoyed quite a creative hub.
We decided to go out on our own and set up The Watchman Agency.
We moved to Marshall Street in Soho and started to create mini campaigns and quickly moved into more editorials and doing campaigns for various clients on Carnaby Street such as Caterpillar and Levi’s.
It evolved very quickly into becoming quite prolific.
We were quite dynamic as a group of four black men in Soho – it was unheard of.
We generated concepts which went on to motivate the philosophy and trends around Acid Jazz. That became a big scene in the post-Mod era.
We worked with the likes of Paul Weller, DC Lee, Titiyo, Keziah Jones, D’Influence, Young Disciples and Brand New Heavies. We were commissioned to produce the art work for the debut Jamiroquai album.
We were quite influential: the agency was ahead of its time.
We then moved to Knightsbridge. I felt at this point that it was a necessity to challenge the gaze as I was getting so enraptured in the mainstream that I was feeling my identity being challenged.
I decided to make a necessary change after reading a broadsheet article that Kate Garner wrote stating that black photographers were frightened of documenting their own people or depicting themselves confidently.
It provoked me to a very serious place. I was incensed and offended that she could she say such a thing, but had to concede that she had made a valid point and had grounds to stand on.
I realised that I was also becoming a victim of her statement and mainstream circumstance, so made a choice to challenge the ground I was standing upon and raise the cultural bar within my own visual narrative.
I made a conscious decision to use that article and that statement to ask myself the question:
“Who am I within this pond of creative media?”
What would I look like in 20 years, 30 years time and what pathways would I have been able to empower so that others coming from my background could feel emboldened enough to go and pursue their vision without apology?
That is when I coin-phrased the construct of Nubian Iconography where I wanted to explore what it would look like to create images that weren’t just about the stereotypical brief.
Essentially by addressing the concerns of me not harnessing my cultural perspective from a Nubian Iconographic space, at that part of me realising and galvanising my work it actually started to influence ALL of my work across the board.
My perspective was more sincere, truthful, more relative and poignant because I was spiritually connecting to my subjects irrespective of their ethnicity, culture or character and more importantly I was connected to my Self.
I was working a lot in the music industry at this point and had done things for Biggie Smalls, Arrested Development, Will Downing, Roachford, Des’ree, The Fugees and many, many others.
I wanted to make sure that there was a unashamed cultural identity within my visual narrative.
After I made that commitment the Nubian Iconography was born and that was really about creating images that I felt would stand the test of time and transcend the shelf life span of a consumer image.
I think that’s what evolved me into becoming more of a Fine Art photographer as I etched out that authentic image that I felt should have a soul rendition obviously influenced by music and the power of that sound.
I wanted to have the same energy in my images [as are found in the medium of Music] as I was motivated by such.
I felt that is where I am at and that is where I have continued to evolve.
YOUR BODY OF WORK has captured many iconic musicians and personalities and definitive zeitgeist moments in British, African-American, Jamaican and Ghanaian social and political culture.
WHY and HOW have you chosen to tackle particular issues of Identity and create potent Iconography within your work?
To be quite honest with you I decided to really challenge the area of Identity because I felt my soul was at risk and equally the soul of others because of the void, the lacking of [creative] concern and this obsession with following the trend of the zeitgeist that we were perceiving around us that had very little to do with my culture.
I felt that needed balancing and I needed that balance to restore my narrative and also think ahead: that the seeds you sow today are the ones that you will benefit from later on down the road.
If you plant the wrong seeds you get the wrong crop and I did not want to be just another consumer photographer.
I was very good at it [Commercial photography], in itself there was conflict and I wanted to address that, so iconography was a means for me to transmit that through the depiction of the work whether it was through portraiture, through fashion or whether it was just an image.
I wanted to harness that and master the process of how I could transmit my spirit into an image so that it had a signature.
It had the hallmark of my struggle and my people’s struggle and I saw so much more happening when I did that [created iconic images] and I had much more pleasure in so doing.
To me it was like creating manna from nothing and it was also confidence building for my sitters, as well as watching the body of work to grow to be its own standing amongst other groups or genres of photographers that had more privilege than I did.
I also wanted to be a bit defiant to not succumb to the idea of having to just mirror what was easy and use technical cop-out rather than look at the inner soul dimension of what the image can actually project for the next generation, so that’s technically and spiritually what I pursued.
YOUR AESTHETIC caresses the Female form with accords both ancient and futuristic and arouses potent emotions unique to each observer’s perspective and sensibility.
Your visual philosophy is very appreciative of the form and spirit of the Black Woman and empowering of the female image in all its incarnations.
Do you consider yourself to be a Feminist?
The word “Feminist” in itself provokes an interesting sort of idea and I wouldn’t want to put myself in a category as a Feminist.
I would be more inclined towards the reference of being a “Respecter of the Matriarch” and one who embraces that.
Being brought up by strong black women who always bestowed such wisdom and leadership skills empowered me as a young man to respect and understand the significance of the female form.
Not just her physical form but her spiritual and instinctive, intuitive form.
That has always informed me to really recognise the power of addressing that balance and not just become this brute that just wants to objectify the female form.
I am a full appreciator of all women can bring forth, but to politicise it in a feministic manner, no not at all, I would never consider myself to be a feminist.
But absolutely in a cultural and spiritual manner I will honour the Matriarch.
We need to be careful not be trapped into agendas, which I obviously try to avoid, but at the same time pay homage to the significance of beauty that emanates from within and who better to portray that than the female who goes up against all odds and still manages to prevail and work for her family and her cultural regard, so definitely I am about that.
What do you find most attractive in a female subject – do you have a MUSE?
I think over the years I have had several muses.
I am fascinated by the female form and the female subject because they can be quite incandescent too.
I try not to read ahead of myself.
I try to work with each subject as my muse.
I’ve had periods of time where I have worked with several different muses and they all are unique and it’s not limited to just persona, as you know I am an alchemist in photography.
I like to look at the sensual values in many things because I feel that tunes me into that feminine principle to which creativity informs the intuition.
I love working from that place so I get educated and informed by working with a lot of various muses and subjects in that manner.
You find that most creative people tune into that pathway quite naturally and it’s a kind of a sacred ground because it’s quite intimate and its done perceptively by one being invited to meet the other and there we engage in battle, but the battle is to create the construct outside of the norm and that is what makes it exciting because you never know what you’re going to come up with next because you’re allowing yourself to let go of the You or what you think you’re about or the projections of the ego and you allow vulnerability to take form and transcend the limitations of the moment and that is where magic I believe happens and I love that part of the process.
So in terms of Muse, its undefinable really, but I think what’s really interesting when you work with particular subjects is when they let go of themselves and finally engage that present and you both share a gift which becomes this very unique art form and that also makes me very excited about the work: when I am in that moment creating because you can scream and let go.
You can really can make them free to let go and it becomes this depiction that will last a life time.
YOUR USE OF ART TO MAKE A SOCIAL STATEMENT AND INFLUENCE ESSENTIAL CHANGE is something that we share, although the role of a Commissioner is very different than that of the one who Creates.
I find your work can be as educational as it is inspiring when you focus your lens and shine an activist spotlight on issues that are often hidden from view, misunderstood or demonised such as Homelessness, Mental Health and Pandemic Disease.
The potent work that the permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations commissioned you to produce and show at the International Ebola Conference hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations in 2015 further opened many eyes to issues that too often are not seen and heard from a holistic perspective that inspires social recovery and promotes cultural resilience.
HAVING BEEN EXHIBITED around the world in art fairs, galleries and at the highest global diplomatic institution, which milestones of your creative journey have brought you the greatest career impact and personal satisfaction?
I’ve never been a great careerist, I think that probably has been one of my faults!
I have been very fortunate to participate in several shows whether at The Bow Arts Trust, Christie’s, The Hayward Gallery, 198 or The National Portrait Gallery…
The Ebola Conference in 2015 was an opportunity that came about after showing my work in a Christie’s exhibition.
I was working with a particular agency and the gallerist and I a shared number of conversations regarding the manner in which African Tribal Art was being exploited with a solely commercial remit that predominately lacked understanding, empathy or respect for the original purpose of the artefacts’ use and their sacred status within their indigenous cultures.
Our conversations on artists informing narratives provided food for thought. The gallerist chose me to represent the agency in an event that would be an opportunity to show and prove how that synchronicity would work and how effective it could be.
I had to draft a synopsis based on my view point on how my work would impact upon the social accord. In so doing it did cause a little bit of disruption, but that was my intention. The work was able to counter the position of the ministers. They spent months deliberating on how they were going to receive me and eventually they did.
It was kind of like a new era to combine the Arts with the ministers’ vision. It was fortunate that the Ministers at the Sierra Leone Embassy in London had an open vision because It was challenging for them, they’re not used to engaging with an artist’s narrative, but they actually let it happen and it was fantastic because that needs to happen more.
Sierra Leone procured the work which I generated from images from a past project commissioned by the Ghanaian print and textile brand GTP.
The creative process became an unusual symbiosis combining elements and traditions with insight into everyday lives. The market life, the women who worked so hard to take care of their families. As well as working on the market stalls, they also took care of their homes.
I was watching this whole thing of the Matriarch from a different dimension and I saw how a disruption would disturb so many people’s lives: economically, socially and within the disaster of them losing their health and lives.
I decided to look at the whole Ebola situation as the disruption that it was from various points and researched the virus quite deeply. It opened a lot in my mind’s eye and I had to then decipher that and find a way to channel the points and conceptions that I saw.
It was quite transcendental for me, as it gave the opportunity to delve deeper into my inspiration and process of creation – to explore the disease right down to both the cellular level and its social impact.
The devastation wreaked upon human pathology and West African communities and society was horrendous: entire villages decimated and many children orphaned – it was a tragedy I still find hard to reconcile.
As well as dissecting the intellectual, biological, social and spiritual aspects of Ebola, I explored and meditated on the issues further until my research and feelings could be both visualised and resonant within the art works.
So, “The Witness “or “Eye Witness” which was one of the pieces was really a statement along the lines of “We are watching this time”.
This was not the first time that the Ebola scandal had broken out, and I say “scandal” as it was never actually really expressed correctly and I saw in my research that patents for various species and compositions of Ebola exist, as do potential vaccines and cures such as the ZMapp serum which away from the mainstream news at the time was being reported as a successful experimental treatment given to two infected Americans, but not deployed elsewhere.
I wanted to make the world see that artists can both share insight and shine the light on certain humanitarian issues.
I produced three major pieces which I took to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. It was a great experience showing my EBOLA body of work to the many dignitaries and diplomats who were present at the exhibition.
The project and eventual exhibition allowed me to illustrate the active force that Art can be in both the political and economic arenas of Culture.
At one of the viewings, some ministers and I had a good conversation. I discussed the work and crisis in depth with some of them, gaining an even deeper insight into the plight and the process of how at the time they were looking to resolve the Ebola situation.
The Ebola Conference would not have been able to take place without the cooperation of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
It was awesome to see three nations coming together as one at a devastating and tragic time to focus international attention on the necessity of targeted investments and assure the mobilisation of funding that would support the recovery priorities of the three countries over a 24-month timeframe.
Over $5 billion of pledges were recorded at the conference.
This was not a begging bowl scenario but a global investment project. The funds raised were targeted to help to turn around the economic downturn and breakdown of progress in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Ebola outbreak had seriously affected the nations’ peace and development, setting back momentum to reduce poverty, increase health and social services and general social cohesion.
The partnership of the African Union, the African Development Bank, the European Union and the World Bank alongside the United Nations was also pivotal to the Conference’s funding drive and ensuring efforts of the three African nations working in unison.
As a Jamaican, it brought home the true meaning of our old proverb,
“One hand can’t clap.”
As when the world works together towards a positive goal that aids humanity, there will be nothing but universal applause.
As an artist to be even but a small part of such an action in both my creative output and human effort, being even an atom or small vibration within that movement of human hands coming together to do great work is worth more than many accolades and affirms my commitment to Philanthropy within my own Art.
I would welcome the opportunity to document the aftermath and recovery in the Ebola affected regions.
It would be great to document how the lives and communities I was inspired to bring attention to are being rebuilt with the resources raised and recovery programmes implemented.
I would like to see how efforts to prevent future pandemics occurring with as much ferocity are taking shape and making positive impact at the grassroots; capturing the human face and community actions behind the headlines many have since forgotten.
I am open to future philanthropic or altruistic projects partnered with causes I feel an alignment with that are executed by reputable groups, institutions or foundations.
Working with organisations that are inspired by doing the right and humane thing for those suffering or in need of protection or alleviation from dire circumstance around the world is an appealing proposition.
Over the past few years I have used my Art and Creative Consultancy to assist MOSOP [The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People] who represent the Ogoni Nine, Ken Saro Wiwa and the people of the Ogoni land.
This was really about recognising that what effects one effects all.
Art is a platform for humanity to express without hindrance and it is not just political, it’s a very social concern.
It was brilliant to have met with the EU protagonist of MOSOP, Mr Lazarus Tamana and working with him, Fried Egg Producations, Platform and yourself – AFRICA: Seen & Heard – on the “The Spirit of the Ogoni: Then, Now & Forever” Testament Art™ show you curated for MOSOP’s 25th Anniversary.
Presenting work that got the conversation going and showed that we can drive it was a very important moment for me as the issues raised are still current when you examine the state of the environment, petroleum and plastic pollution and social justice around the world.
Similar to Ogoni land, has been my interest in Congo via the African Family Reunion.
Again, this is an ongoing process. I was brought on board as kind of an Ambassador for their programme to assist in many different ways, each has given me great insight into infrastructure, financing, programming and how the land can be utilised to assist groups of people, both here in the Diaspora and in Congo.
The grassroots initiative is not just limited to Congo – it is actually Congo, Angola and Brazzaville, working with the chieftaincies and again accessing their context which is not often presented within the mainstream narrative.
So yes, my art, my ministry and my contributions to them is boundless and I want to generate the revenue or artistic provenance that helps to establish their journey and their own cultural provenance.
Then, you know we see each other as One and go forward to show that humanity is not asleep.
Initially, my role was a consultative one to assist the African Family Reunion group to untangle a few challenges they were having. In so doing they then realised what I did as a creative and visual artist, and understood that it is transferable into various things in terms of business.
In so being they positioned me in their infrastructure to assist them to drive markets and provide a creative overview; we are now building on that configuration.
Being embraced by the Congo groups ignited my vision of the BORDERLESS: Kings + Queens project. [We will explore this project in Commission Conversation: Part II]
I had spoken with the leading Queen of that group who stands in charge of over 20,000 chieftaincies – and that is paramount chieftaincies.
They have a tremendous amount of land and a tremendous amount of assets within that land, unfortunately due to political reasons there have been issues of restrictions.
Our journey together now is to illustrate within that conversation, that it is not about what is within the land, it is about the Culture that is actually within the custodians of that land and how can we extend that conversation.
Whilst we are building now, BORDERLESS: Kings + Queens is going to be a great vehicle for unpacking some of that narrative and hopefully getting that to as broad an audience as we can.
Being invited to be a part of the Congo conversation was a great honour for me coming from an outside background and Pan-African state of mind.
Going back to being a part of the 2015 example of the African Unity that can be achieved when we come together as individuals and nations was also a very powerful experience.
In 2019, we are now seeing that cooperation to a certain degree with the initiative and national partnerships between Ghana, Jamaica and the USA – born from the shared intention and concerted effort to make this year “The Year of Return”.
I certainly always feel at home in Ghana both via my Maroon ancestry and having spent a lot of time in the country.
I first went to Ghana in around 1994 and used to visit – both cities and villages – intermittently every other year. I then began to bring people to experience the village culture. People came from the UK and all different parts of the Diaspora: from Nigeria, from Jamaica, the Caribbean, some were Rastafarian, others Christian and Muslim.
It was really interesting to offer that experience as I realised that many people of African descent outside of the continent were so fractured at some point and really needed healing and a collective healing was what was required.
It’s like the ants that were scattered to the four corners of the world, without a centre they would be forever disorientated.
I find that Marcus Garvey’s revolutionary philosophy which inspired Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister and president of Ghana and is perfectly illustrated at Parliament Square in Accra is a potent cultural centre which was deliberately put there by the ancestors for us to always remind ourselves that no matter how we are disoriented there is always a centre in Africa where you can go to and get learning.
This focal point goes back to the old traditions of the meccas of old from Timbktu, to Songhai, to Old Ghana and now we are in Ghana, 2019 – The Year of Return.
The Akans, the people from Nigeria, the diverse peoples that were taken away and pushed all over the globe: to Brazil, to Cuba, to The Caribbean – it is one culture, it’s just that it has been cut into many subdivisions, many of which no longer recognise their core origin and cultural nucleus.
I was lucky to be in Ghana decades ago and whilst there I pursued the reignition of cultural connections on my own.
I documented PANAFEST in 1992 and also in 1993 and 1997. I have been documenting and understanding and saw the first wave of resettlement or of reorientation taking place, even when the word “Diasporan” was born inceptively in the discourse within all the intellectuals and historians, I was in that room when that word was chosen to include all outside of Africa.
A lamb was sacrificed and the paramount chief even broke his protocol to speak with myself and my small group to confess that their family did participate [in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade], but this is about healing and the reason why he was prepared to break protocol like that.
He was not above us, in fact we are actually on a level now and we will come back with what we bring to the table, to raise the bar, to change the dynamic and actually to live on as we are not dead, we are actually very much alive.
My role in that process was to record, to document something that we can unpack and revisit, in this time and for those yet to come in future generations.
Now being here in 2019 we can revisit on a level where we can actively add value to the narrative and that is now the process we are in.
I am looking forward to JaGha 2019, on the 8th, 9th and 10th of March it’s all happening in Accra and in Elmina Castle, Cape Coast and it’s a year of return indeed as the government has given license and opportunity for people to come and resettle.
This is a good opportunity for the country and it illustrates that if we work our dynamics, you know we can turn our own Africa and our Caribbean into the tourist spots giving people the opportunity to think outside of the West.
We can alleviate ourselves from so much distress within our wellness and spiritual reserves.
For me it is a really a very fortunate thing to even have been on this pathway in a time when there was no support, it was not trendy, there was no internet – I did this on the strength of a spiritual calling and now I can actually build on that legacy.
Moving from the past into the present time and the future, I would certainly like to produce a One Man Show that allows audiences old and new to experience the full breadth and scope of my unseen work and well received and iconic images from my Archive.
In 2019, I will be showing some new work and exploring a few unexpected avenues and institutional collaborations that will make some potent cultural and artistic statements.
At the moment, I am energised by a once in a lifetime invitation I have just received to provide creative catalysts for some essential cultural shifts in both Art and social engagement.
“Photography is not only my life, it’s my love, and pride rolled into one.”
SEE & HEAR Kofi Allen interviewed by M J Fontaine as part of The Creative Pioneer Series
ENLIVEN your home, business or public space with a Limited Edition Kofi Allen print or unique commission. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Re: Kofi Allen Editions).
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CONNECT with the exiled history of The Maroons of North America
DISCOVER the wealth of inspiration and opportunities offered by Ghana 2019: Year of Return
RESEARCH experiences of those who have made the move before planning your future. Ghana is the first African country to open its doors to people of African descent from all over the world – but bureaucracy takes a toll https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2015/african-americans-resettle-africa
REGISTER to attend the inaugural JaGha Fest and enjoy the celebration and dynamism of Jamaican and Ghanaian cultural fusion http://www.jaghafest.com/event-info/eotwp-presents-jagha-fest-in-association-with-the-year-of-the-return
APPRAISE the outcomes of the International Ebola Recovery Conference, 9 – 10 July 2015 https://ebolaresponse.un.org/recovery-conference #EbolaResponse
EXPLORE the truth behind the raw materials within your mobile phone and modern technology: Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in CONGO
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