As a self-taught artist and photographer, Kwadwo A. Asiedu’s journey into the realm of art may be considered untraditional. For years, Kwadwo served as a Soil Health Project Manager after earning a master’s degree in environmental management. But the pull of creativity was irresistible, leading him from a career grounded in the sciences to one awash with color, narrative, and emotion. His childhood, spent amidst the lush biodiversity of Nigeria’s largest protected rainforest, has profoundly influenced his art. This rainforest, situated within an agricultural institute, became his muse – offering endless tales of nature’s splendors and secrets. Today, Asiedu’s works are a symphony of nature’s charm, a dialogue between man and the environment, where he masterfully plays with scale to challenge our perceptions and urge a reconsideration of humanity’s often exploitative relationship with the Earth. Join us as we delve deep into the mind of this unique artist, exploring his inspirations, aspirations, and the myriad stories he seeks to tell through his art.
Christopher Cox Your current exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery features a series of abstracted landscapes that explore various elements of flora and fauna. Could you provide insights into the process of selecting and representing these natural elements in your paintings? What inspired your choices.
Kwadwo A. Asiedu Before venturing into a new project I start by going through a process of visualisation, which entails writing out a construct of what I desire the piece to encompass in terms of the following three paradigms: energy in terms of the vibrations I wish the piece to possess; the recognition of the rational behind the significance of the piece in terms of its relevance to its own narrative; then, I compose the framework in elements that will best invoke the sentiment of the prior two constructs – which includes palette tonality, environmental subject matter and the exploration of varying environmental elements best suited to illustrate the pieces chronicle – such as terrain, and indeed the election of the types of flora and/or fauna. With a plethora of elements of inspiration to draw from nature, it has always been important to me, to insure that the final digital render of the piece conveys, in essence, a legible presentation of ‘juxtaposed harmony’, with the hope to stimulate, within the viewer, a sense of onus to desire to embark of visual recourse to understand the piece. Thus, the hope is that the piece’s inspiration is centred on the prospect generating social dialog and discourse on contemporary environmental issues.
Christopher Can you share with us your journey into art and how your passion for the natural world influenced your artistic path?
Kwadwo My journey into art is a rather interesting one, as I’d picked up art much later on in life; whereby for the majority of my adult working life had been spent as a Soil Health Project Manager, post the completion of my MSc. in Environmental Management. After a number years in this role I had come to the realisation that I was a creative soul and I lacked the feeling of fulfilment; just as the sentiment by Maximus Decimus Meridius, from Gladiator, “I had a dream that was Rome, and this was not it”.
I took the plunge in late 2018, relinquished my position and started pursuing my passions; which at the time were: creative writing, poetry and photography. A couple of months in, one evening, I had stumbled upon a Youtube instructional video on abstract painting, and I completely cascaded down a rabbit-hole, consuming all content art and painting related till the twilight hours of the next morning; and for the longest time, I had always felt that painting was beyond my skill set, until that moment. This was the beginning of a revelation that turned into a voyage of an inquisition into painting.
Later that week I bought myself some card paper, an affordable acrylic paint set, and accompanying brushes. After a few weeks of experimenting, painting took a firm hold of me, superseding my other creative endeavours and seemingly, ‘The wait was finally over, and there began my odyssey’.
Looking back on it all, the skills that I had developed from my other creative outlets influenced heavily upon my practice: Creative writing and poetry lent itself to understanding the importance of narrative; whilst, photography informed perspective, vision and provided me the technological competence to be able to lay the foundations of the paintings I create to date.
Christopher Could you describe your experience growing up on the land of an agricultural institute in Nigeria?
Kwadwo A. Asiedu Having grown up in an agricultural institute, that possessed within it the largest preserved secondary rainforest in the region, I found myself naturally drawn to its allure as a place of adventure and enthralment. From as far back as I can remember I would hike or cycle through the forest trails every weekend or so for the entirety of my teenage and young adult life. Over those years there was the conception of deeply rooted fascination in the living environment. For as the seasons would change, and the years mounted, traversing the same routes as I’d always done – no visit was ever the same. I would always discover new plants, new insects, the occasional mammal and/or reptile; flowers would bloom and wilt, the trees alike, would bare fruit and wither. There is genuinely so much to revel in when it comes that rainforests, and indeed the natural world; and I’ve always felt the curiosity breeds the possibility of admiration and adoration – which in-turn provides avenues for the desire to understand.
This in turn has influenced my practice by assisting in informing the narrative behind my practice – which is synonymous with the presentation of my art. That ‘we’, as onlookers, may be able to resonate with the beauty and harrowing that exists within the current state of the natural world, whilst appreciate the fortitude of its resiliency; and lastly, to come to appreciate the significance of what most may consider insignificant within the natural world. For example, the personified ideal of ‘perfection’ within nature – and coming to terms with the notion that whilst it may not be perfect to ‘us’, it is, as it is, by the design over centuries of evolution, and learning the acceptance that aspects of the natural world just ‘are’, and that we should not seek dominion over it rather appreciate our place within it.
Secondly, the notion of importance based off of size and scale. In my practice I often illustrate the juxtaposition of size and scale to represent that all elements, no matter size or scale are significant within they’re varying ecologies and ecosystems as they all serve a purpose. Lastly, and simply, the natural world from my viewpoint is a domain the best elates the essence of the word ‘wonderment’.
Christopher Growing up in Nigeria, were there any local or national artists who had an impact on your artistic development or influenced your perspective on design and culture?
Kwadwo Being a self-taught artist, and operating in generally small circles – for concentration purposes, has favoured my practice very well in being able to create and develop my own style; however, as a result, I admit I didn’t know to much about art history and the art domain as a whole. Coupling this, was the desire to uncover ways to best communicate my message through the dialog in my practice. There has only been one Nigerian artist that really helped me through the process of navigating my own development, and that was Nengi Omuku.
Nengi really nurtured and guided me through my development; and it was interesting, in hindsight, the guidance was really through a process of peeling back the layers of the proverbial onion, in the sense that she really aided in, and directed, my influence by presenting me with a series of rebuttals to every decision I desired to make by essentially challenging me to uncover the ‘why’ behind every choice I opted for. In turn this made me delve deeper and research thoroughly so that my practice was based off of grounded sound art history and practices that were applicable/specific to my practice – as such she provided me with the ‘where to look’. Thus, I would be remised if I didn’t reiterate how invaluable Nengi and her council has been to the evolution of my artistic development.
Christopher What is the current art scene/community like in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos? Are there any other cities outside of Lagos with a burgeoning art community?
Kwadwo Interestingly enough, I live in Ibadan and I must say this city is stacked with a vast array of young and unexposed artistic talent; one which is continually, year on year, blossoming with the promise of generational level talent. I am certainly intrigued how some of the talents that I have come across will develop as artists as time goes on, as I genuinely believe they are, and through their togetherness, destined to raise the bar of not only Nigeria’s artistic reverence but indeed that of the continent as a whole.
Christopher In your series of paintings for the exhibition, what do you hope viewers will take away from them? What emotions or sensations do you hope to evoke in us?
Kwadwo Within this body of work in this exhibition I hope to stimulate within the viewer a motivation to consider humanity’s position within nature and our need to cultivate a more sustainable and respectful relationship with the earth. Whilst my practice celebrates nature’s resiliency to endure, it also situates to exemplify humanities exploitation of the natural world. Ultimately, hoping that the work resonates a rendering as a fragmented symbiosis of a coexistence with the living environment.
I aim to objectively uphold a notion that nature will persist to ultimately outlive us, foreshadowing its internal permanence and stoicism, enlight of our mortality. Thus, within the nexus of our interaction with nature, presenting at the forefront the consequence of our inconsequence, our ephemerality.
This body of work remains centred on opening our minds up to the vastness of the environment so that we get to subjectively experience the sublimity of the living world; whilst, relinquishing our bind ‘over’, nature as a subservient commodity. Rather, observing nature through the privilege as a spectator, to explore the notion that mother-nature is the true artist, and I a messenger, conveying its emotive’s of its charm and distressing’s. The self-imposed endeavour of embarking on the resurgence of the romanticism era, stooped in intrinsic historical precedence, is worth the journey so that nature itself may be seen in a light anewed by others that may seed the generation of dialog centred around issues such as climate change and its adverse effect and the need for better environmental practices and preservation; and thus, so that the natural world may be ‘heard’ empathically.
I concur with statement that the radical separation of humans from nature inevitably does harm to both, as by through our modernisation we have sort to bend nature to serve human desires, whilst superficially omitting ourselves as being part of the living environment. To a large degree I have felt the responsibility to aim to rekindle our inclusion, via a sense stewardship and accountability, embedded in a notion that we as a species are a part of the natural world.
Ultimately to rekindle the same childlike fascination that I have had with the living environment.
Christopher You were born in Mexico – did you also spend a significant amount of time living there? If so, how did that experience shape your perspective on art and nature?
Kwadwo Not long at all, as I and my family left the country when I was still an infant, so my memory has been best served through photographs of my family’s time there. However, I have always had deep sense of affinity for the people, the culture and history, the food, but bar-none a profound fascination of the diverse landscape of the country, especially, both in its expansive varying topography’s and vast biodiversity. I look forward, truly, to the joy of exploring it in its endlessness first-hand in terms of opportunities to celebrate the landscape through case studies for hopefully an entire new body of work.
Christopher What places have you lived or visited that inspired your art?
Kwadwo Outside of Nigeria, the countries that I have visited that have had the largest impact, in terms of inspiring my art in recent times has been the allure of generally arid west African countries. The commonality across the countries that I’ve visited have tended to possess within them fascinating landforms namely Mali, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso and then further up north has been Morocco.