08 Feb ART STUDENTS – ANNIE-MARIE AKUSSAH
Tell us about your background?
Annie-Marie: I was born in the capital city of Ghana in 1995, to Ghanaian parents. I lived in Accra till I was 14. I was raised by many hands because when I was much younger my father had left to the UK to study computer science and make a living for his 3 daughters. I loved to draw and paint and play with anything that would get my fingers muddy from a very young age. My older sister, whom I look up to a lot studied a design course briefly at KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology); a very prominent art school in Ghana with Alumni’s such as El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama. Now I’m studying Fine Art at Wimbledon.
What drew you to pursuing an art degree?
AM: When I was much younger my Tanzanian mother (adoptive) used to take me to art workshops in Osu, which involved sculpture and collage. I didn’t really think of art as something I could pursue. I thought it was my hobby. Through primary school (in Ghana) and secondary school (in London), art was still my favourite subject, however I still wasn’t aware of the role of an artist and its possibilities, so I pursued a sporting career and played in the England basketball league. During my last year in sixth form my art tutor insisted that I attended a foundation course for art in Camden and I did. That was the best decision I had made in a long while. The basketball community and the art community are distinct entities, but I believe basketball fostered my discipline in the new space I began to exist in. My practice on the foundation course surprised me. I worked in several media; from painting to performance, film, photography and poetry.
What was your parents’ reaction to you pursuing an art degree?
AM: My Dad was fine with it. I grew up in a single parent home and was raised by Dad. He was very interested in what I do, so he wasn’t fazed by decision. He was very supportive; he would criticise my work and tell how I could be better. He used to sculpt on the side as well. I’ve never had that question of how would you survive from my Dad. My mom on the other hand who doesn’t know me so well always questions: asking that if I’m going to an art degree why isn’t it architecture or graphic design or interior design, compared to Fine Art.
Do you think there is a stigma around pursuing an art degree in the Afro-Caribbean society?
AM: In the past yes, 10 years ago, 5 years ago yes. But now Ghana is booming. We have galleries that are thriving and pushing their artists to art fairs particularly Galley 1957. So, I think Ghana is really believing in the arts. The government hasn’t yet dedicated funds to is, but the people are passionate about it. I recently went to Ghana and visited an exhibition and on the wall, it had all the artists there and there were over 60. For me 60 is a lot, considering there is only one art school in Ghana – KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) – so for them to produce so many artists and hold such a moving exhibition is impressive. Even if they government says no, the people says yes, so I think there is hope in Ghana arts scene. I think now society is more understanding.
When I went back to Ghana to do some research, no one acted weird or questioned my decision to pursue an art degree. It’s almost a norm. It’s one of the reasons I want to move back home. I think it’s reflective in a lot of creative industries – music, fashion, film – the youth are becoming freer to pursue what they want. A lot more people are applying for an art education. For women, as well, one of the tutors at the art college flagged that a lot more women are applying for an art education.
Do you have any fears it won’t be viable financially?
AM: Yes. Everyone has fears. But, you have to keep believing. Keep faith that it will be possible. Right now, I have a little doubt, but I don’t have fear that it won’t be successful, because I believe that there are so many branches in fine art, it’s not just in a studio, it goes beyond the studio it’s engaging with real life. So, even though my practice industry doesn’t work out, I know my practice as an artist outside the studio will work out – philanthropy, bringing art into social environments through workshops.
Which of your pieces are you most proud of?
AM: That’s a very hard question. I don’t think I have an answer to that yet. That is not to say that I am not happy with any of my paintings. I get excited when my thoughts and texts are executed, but I cannot select one at this moment. I believe this is because my understanding of the question is to pinpoint what painting I believe has achieved its purpose. Considering the themes within my work, I will be very proud when a painting not only makes a change in the viewer’s mind, but endows them to make a physical and important change within a society.
What would you say to someone who is considering pursuing an art degree but is afraid?
AM: Wow. Okay, the truth is you will never know until you try. You must know within yourself, that the disparaged or romanticised utopia of an art career you might have made yourself believe, will not be experienced by everyone. So, you need to go out and experience the art world for yourself. Everything we do in life entails risks, some people don’t want to get on motor bikes because there is a danger of hurting themselves, but there are also several dangers very much present as you walk down your road instead. In all honesty, an art degree has been a life changing experience for me so far, I would do it all again because I do not want to stop growing and learning. I would tell them to channel the fear into excitement because it is the right thing to do.
Here are some of Annie-Marie Akussah’s pieces: