For many of us, pursuing artistic endeavours can be a huge leap of faith. Though African creativity is rapidly gaining the world’s attention, governments are still slow to lend proper structural support to creative sectors. Despite these industries across the continent earning almost 4.2 billion dollars annually. Besides this lack of structural support, other external pressures such as culturally held notions and stigma around creative and vocational work being hobbies or unimportant work are just some of the challenges facing young African creatives when embarking on or maintaining their creative journey.
However, for a dedicated few, making the decision to pursue their artistry wholeheartedly is a no brainer. Currently, Ghanaian contemporary artists are sending the global art scene into a frenzy with the works of talents like Amoako Boafo and Kwesi Botchway gaining worldwide recognition signalling a growing hunger for African creative work. Young African artists, dealers and private organisations are stepping up to be counted in a world that has traditionally ignored or tokenized their contributions. One such artist taking this leap of faith is Joshua Oheneba Tayki, a rising Ghanaian contemporary painter from Kumasi.
Commonly known in the local arts scene as @IamOheneba, Joshua’s journey as a creative artist can serve as inspiration to many battling between choosing their dreams and bowing to external pressures and self-doubt.
Oheneba describes himself as having always been creative, “I didn’t always know I wanted to be an artist but I have always made art. After high school, I started to believe I wanted to do it full time but I still wasn’t sure.” Like many young Africans, Oheneba experienced the pressure of going the traditional route: go to school, find a job etc. Still, after studying construction at university and experiencing the discomfort of feeling limited by his first professional internship, Oheneba then made the decision during his studies to work on his art in his months off school.
“I knew that after I graduated I did not want to feel like that again”Joshua Oheneba-Takyi
Sticking to his decision and working under the artist development collective Artemartis, Oheneba gained wide recognition on social media for his emotive depictions of everyday Accra scenery, ranging from popular landmarks to images of the bustling city roads at night. Now, after years of developing his talents and staying true to his dreams, Oheneba’s debut solo exhibition at Accra’s frontier commercial gallery, Gallery 1957, is an open call for all of us to do the same.
Having been selected as a junior fellow under the Noldor Residency Program led by Art Director, Joseph Awuah Darko, Oheneba created his second body of work titled “A Seat At the Table”. Using chairs as a focal point of this artistic series, Oheneba turns a seemingly everyday household object into a tool of teleportation that traces and hints at his subjects’ past, present and potential futures. The idea being that we all use chairs but the lives that sit in them indeed vary from place to place.
Having had the pleasure of interviewing the artist on location at Gallery 1957, Oheneba shared his inspirations behind his works, how his creativity and spirituality work hand in hand and why making use of your talents is so important.
Can you tell us about your creative philosophy and how you came by it?
Joshua Oheneba-Takyi: I am inspired by a number of things but I think if I could pick one, it would be that I think human beings are extremely resourceful but unfortunately, there is a time limit to that. What I live by is to be able to create and use as much of my potential and resources as I can before my time is up. By the time God calls me home, I want to have used my talents to the most.
Do you sometimes feel pressure at this thought? That there is a time limit to what you can accomplish on this earth?
Joshua Oheneba-Takyi: Not necessarily. For me, it becomes less about pressure and more about using what you were gifted. The question then becomes if you have a talent why don’t you use it whilst you can?
Not one to avoid concepts of life and death, one of the works Trip to Jerusalem from “A Seat At the Table” plays heavily on the randomness of death. Four men dressed in red traditional mourning attire are seen walking around a series of white chairs whilst two float randomly above the main scene, contrasting the solemn background. Drawing connections between the rules of elimination during musical chairs and the unspoken knowledge that at a funeral any of us could be next, Oheneba reflects our shared fragility and humanity back at us. None of his painted figures’ faces are complete yet through clever technique, and use of body language made possible by chairs, Oheneba’s paintings communicate with its viewers almost through intuition and shared human experience.
What was the inspiration behind a Seat At the Table?
Joshua Oheneba-Takyi: With this body of work, I wanted to kind of subvert the conventional method of painting which usually focuses on the figure in the image. With “A Seat At the Table”, my focal point was rather the everyday tool that is often overlooked but always being used. I chose to hone in on the chair instead as a tool to communicate what’s happening in the painting. “A Seat At the Table” is my own way of looking at things. The seat being a metaphorical vehicle for a new way of creating and thinking about things and the table being the traditional way and having that seat at the table close the gap.
Why the focus on chairs then?
Joshua Oheneba-Takyi: They’re an everyday item. When I started my residency, I had to move from Kumasi to Accra and when I came I didn’t bring anything. I just came. So my apartment was just bare, and one of the first things I brought in was a chair. That was a very defining moment for me because all my life I didn’t realise how a chair could signify human presence. Suddenly the room was not empty anymore. With a chair there, it made me feel like I actually occupied that space. So I started looking into what that meant and the many ways chairs can influence our lives and how it adds to the human experience.
Melancholy, A piece from the exhibition Oheneba juxtaposes a graceful model-like figure dressed in finery slouched against an average looking blue plastic chair. Though the figure takes up the majority of the yellow-painted canvas commandeering the image, according to Oheneba, “Without the chair, my subject would not have been able to get into its position in the first place. Though the figure exudes the majority of the emotion on the canvas, without the chair and its support we would not be able to see her in this vulnerable position”.
Finally, could you tell us what comes to mind when I mention the word “destiny”?
Joshua Oheneba-Takyi: I am a very spiritual person. So destiny to me is what God has had in store for me and about what my path is. It is about growing into it and staying on the path that I am meant to be on. Daily events, regardless of whatever happens, it means staying true to my purpose.
Using chairs as a metaphorical tool for the things in our life which often seem trivial but offer the most support, Oheneba cleverly asks his viewers to look beyond everyday experiences and pursue meaning in everything. A Seat At the Table reminds me and hopefully other creatives out there that we are all worthy of support and sometimes you just need to take the leap to find out what lies beyond.