Interview with Wiz Kudowor. Lessons Learned
Wiz Kudowor Work
Art Success, Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Wiz Kudowor. Lessons Learned
I interviewed Wiz Kudowor a few weeks ago and his interview was published in September 2012. Living and working in Ghana, Kudowor is a very well respected African artist. Born in Takoradi, Ghana in 1957, Kudowor's career has spanned more than 30 years and he has exhibited globally. Kudowor's work is in both public and private collections all around the world and he is seen as one of the leading African artists of his generation. Kudowor gave some interesting and memorable answers during the interview. I learned a lot from speaking with him, gaining a new perspective on things. Here, I will just briefly talk through some of the answers he gave which personally impacted me the most. If you are interested in reading the full interview, you can find it on my blog.
One of the early questions I asked during the interview was whether or not he remembered his very first solo show. He told me that he curated his first solo show himself. This really hit home with me on a personal level because I too curated my first solo show and indeed organised a number of my own exhibitions after that. What impressed me even more was the fact that he sold half of his stock at that first show.
One of the questions that I ask everybody is regarding the myth of the starving artist. There is a pervading idea in our culture regarding art. That of the poor artist starving for his work. Think Vincent van Gaugh... I am sure you know what I am talking about! I always ask if it has ever been their experience and if so, how they dealt with it. Kudowor's answer was inspiring. He said that where he is in the world, it is not always easy to get access to certain resources that are taken for granted in the West. As a result, there were times when he struggled quite badly. What he actually said was that there were times when he was in "stark need." However, most people were not aware of his struggle. To all intents and purposes, he was OK as far as outsiders were concerned. What he did do however, was channel his energies and what little money he had into buying art materials! He said that he would rather have art materials than live in comfort himself. That is an example of true dedication to his craft. He believed in what he was doing so much that he made the sacrifices necessary to continue to produce work. He also got creative. Kudowor used his knowledge of fashion and design to make t-shirts and fashionable items for men and women in order to bring in some extra cash. This is so important for those of us who have NO PLAN B! If art is all you want to do and you are committed to your craft and to your career, you must get creative in order for your continued survival. We all want to continue to create work and sometimes, the reality is that money gets tight. This does not mean that one should give up! Kudowor is a testament to that. A few days ago, I was reading something on motivation, it said that the biggest secret to success was OBSESSION. Having a burning desire to do something that is so powerful, that you become completely obsessed with that thing. This kind of obsession drives you to keep going in the face of adversity. Think of any successful person that has ever lived. It could be Michael Jackson or Jackson Pollock. Look at their lives! You will see that they had an almost feverish obsession for their work. They needed to do it and they never gave up. Continuing to work means practice and we all know what they say about practice. Continue to perfect your craft and make sacrifices if need be so that you can continue and success will find you when you least expect it to...
Shift in Consciousness
One question I always ask of African artists at the moment is in regard to this shift in consciousness towards African art. If you are on the art scene at all, you will be acutely aware of this shift. Artists like the great El Anatsui are making record breaking auction sales and is considered one of the leading artists of our time. This article in Frieze magazine talks quite eloquently about this "shift," if you would like more information. Everything remotely African seems to be very "now," especially in regards to art and fashion.. Back to the question, the question essentially asks them what impact they think this shift will have or has had on their careers and and on other African artists today and going forward. His answer was that he had noticed the shift and he acknowledged that a lot of African artists would inevitably benefit from it. However, he does not see himself as someone who would be affected in any significant way as he was already established before this fashionable wave hit. As far as he is concerned, the wave will end, then what happens to those artists when African art is no longer the in thing? While I found his answer interesting, whether or not it is true, depends on whether or not you believe this African renaissance to be a fad. I am not entirely sure that it is a fad. At least I hope it isn't!
Staying on the topic of African art, as far as Kudowor is concerned, this idea of pandering to Western ideals is outmoded. He suggested that Africans as a whole need to put systems in place to ensure that African art is appreciated, valued and accepted without necessarily pandering to western ideals and aesthetics. This of course would mean that African art would not need to rely on the West for validation. As a woman of African descent, I found this idea very interesting. I wonder if this system will ever be put in place? Perhaps Africa as a continent has bigger problems. Who knows, but I will be keeping my eyes and ears open.
Kudowor is an amazing artist. His work is mind bogglingly beautiful and the interview was very inspiring to me. One final quote from the man which stuck with me and with many of my readers was,
“It is important to impact and impress yourself first.”