Jeffrey Sarmiento in conversation with artist Anthony Amoako-Attah

Sunderland, UK
August 17, 2020

 

 

DR. JEFFREY SARMIENTO (SENIOR LECTURER, AUSTRALIAn NATIONAL UNIVERSITY) IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST ANTHONY AMOAKO-ATTAH

Sunderland, UK, July 2020

 

My work seeks to investigate the philosophical, historical and political representation of the celebrated Adinkra symbols and indigenous Kente patterns with the use of a new medium (glass) into artworks and how people will perceive it in relation to the Ghanaian culture (my culture), and as my personal identity. I am also interested in fabrics as it preserves the essence of its maker; traces of the wearer become entwined with the warp and weft, allowing physical objects to become containers for memory. I am inspired by life chances, the Akan proverbs and how people tell their own story in relation to the Ghanaian culture. I build upon these life moments within the history of Ghanaians and my own life in my works which are the main sources of my inspiration. - Anthony Amoako-Attah

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah's “Transition of Life" was awarded Winner, Aspiring Glass Artists, The Glass Prize 2020. Learn more at: http://www.theglassprize.co.uk/2020-results-cms-65.html. Photo: Carolyn Basing

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

My name is Jeffrey Sarmiento, and I am currently senior lecturer at School of Art & Design at the Australian National University. But I'm conducting all my work from lockdown in Sunderland in the UK. And I'm here with Anthony Amoako-Attah, with whom I've had the pleasure of working for the last many years now. And Anthony has been the center of quite a lot of attention lately, and that's the reason we're having this little chat to share with you today.

 

Q: How did you discover glass?

  

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

One of my lecturers who introduced glass to me as a student, he went to America, and then he wrote some posts about glass art. I searched through the internet to find schools, that do glass. When I searched through the online, Sunderland pop(s) up.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

My first day at uni, when I reached, I was supposed to go back. And when uni was closed, I went to the bus stop, and there was no bus. And that was my first day. I didn't even know how to go home. I was just there and I think how...I didn't even know my post code.

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit to, maybe, how you feel your approaches to making things might be influenced by your culture.

 

Photo: Araceli Rodríguez Álvarez

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

How do I combine glass, Kente patterns, and Adinkra symbols to make the material looks like an identity? When someone sees the thing, this is still the nature. Every color that I choose has a meaning or relation to what I'm doing.

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

So, in transition to, I think it's called, that the work moves from another, Kente cloth, Adinkra symbols, through to tartan, a pattern which you're going to find throughout Britain, predominantly in Scotland, where that has its own cultural belonging, then color schemes mean something that they refer to families or a place. And it is a sense of place.

 

Q: What is it like to be a POC in North East England?

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

I feel better, to me; I feel better living here. Yeah, I feel OK living here. As far as I can say some of the culture...How do we act towards people? Sometimes when I started with (my) Master's, I feel like there was a bit of racism and all kinds of stuff, towards me. But I think when they begin to know you, they begin to open up. That was one of the things that I felt initially that they didn't know me and I was a bit quiet. I felt like there would be racist. But when I begin to open up, to talk more with them and then there was a kind of a gap that was being blocking.

 

Q: Your work is about plan versus reality; how is this reflected in your life?

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

I've thought of so many things in life. My dreams about how things will be like, reality didn't go that way. It really stressed me off. If Jeffrey could remember, if I start any work, I don't finish a job. And there was a big part of my life that was really affecting my work. I think with me I tried not to talk more when it comes to that aspect. But I feel myself that aspect of reality, or let me say the dream that I had in that aspect of reality was affecting my work.

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

Right? You're actually referring to the collapse of the Ghanaian economy.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

Yeah. I just went down because I felt so stressed on the West end, depressed about what was going on. I took the year off school just to reflect on what I was going with, which also revolves around a reality, a plan, in a dream reality and the thing that I've been talking about...

 

Q: What was your first big break?

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

There was one day, Jeffrey sent me a message about the competition and about all those things going on. That time I was still a bit depressed. I didn't really want to do it. So I said "okay, let me try." When I was doing that application they said that I need to get membership, I need to pay for. So I said, let me do it. So I did a membership and...

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

...this is for GAS.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

Yes. For GAS. I did, and then all of a sudden "Boom!"

 

 

Photo: Carolyn Basing

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

I think what's interesting is if you think about it in a certain way, the idea that the fold represents the changes in your life, but also your fold represents the folding of stole that it is meant to be worn around the neck. And actually in a way that piece of glass represents you wearing your culture on your body, on your person, and actually representing yourself.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

When you move from Ghana to England, about 80%, let me say 90% of the things that you wear, you drop your origin, you drop your identity, you just drop it down. And then you begin to wear English (clothing) because the weather is cold.

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

…it’s not suitable for the weather.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

The only time probably I would say I'll wear something related to my identity is probably when I'm going to church.

 

Q: How do you feel about being a representative of Black culture?

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

I sit back in my room and then I'll be thinking about...I just think of Africa. I know in South Africa, there's a bit of glass going over there. In Kenya there's a bit of a glass going over there. But sometimes I sit down and think about myself and when it comes to glass, what I have learned? I've done a Master's in glass. I'm doing a PhD. I feel like after my PhD, I'll be the first Black person to have a PhD in glass. Apart from...

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

...Is it possible? Maybe.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

Yes, even through this Black Life Matters. I read an article where in America, there were a group of senators in one team…

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

…the Democratic Senators were wearing (Kente).

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

I felt like, now, I've hit a point where I've been able to represent the Black. Within the glass—well, which also gave me a kind of—let me see. And wow. I was so happy, and I was so, so happy and I felt like I've hit something...

 

Q: What message would you like others to take from your work?

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

To tell the Black community that we can use our own culture, indeed the material, in which we are working with, in the contemporary world. It's not like borrowing something from a different... You can use your own identity to make a work of art within a bigger picture. Any time, the minute within what is happening. For example, it's like the fold that I make now. If I hadn't gave you the name... I kind of called it Black Life Matters for the fabric. Because it was made within that period.

 

Photo: Araceli Rodríguez Álvarez

 

Jeffrey Sarmiento:

So, in your own work, you're trying to put your life story out there and your identity and your colors, it's out there and in many ways glass is a perfect material for that particular process.

 

Anthony Amoako-Attah:

And one of, even the reason is…that I'm in love with the glasses. Glass is so precious. There's something when it drops, it just breaks depending on the level. And I feel like life matters, Black life matters. I'm trying to sit like the quarter is all rich and is so precious that we incorporate it in my identity through a material, which is glass. Now I have become a language. Every wall is handmade glass. We are bringing our culture to them, whether they like it or not.


Camera and editing by Erin Dickson. Special thanks to University of Sunderland and Australian National University.

 

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