Kamba Fine Art has commissioned 20 prominent African artists including Kofi Allen to produce art inspired by the Ebola epidemic, for an exhibition at the United Nations New York opening this week (9-10 July). Kamba Fine Art founder Leyla Simple partnered with the permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations on the exhibition, which will be on display during the Ebola Recovery conference at the UN. The exhibition will travel to London later in July, and artworks will be auctioned off online to benefit charities working in African communities effected by Ebola. Lee Sharrock talked to Kofi Allen about the initiative.
Lee Sharrock: How did you get involved in the project?
Kofi Allen: I have been working with Kamba Fine Art gallery for the last few years, and have always expressed my interest in supporting the right causes utilising art as a unique platform. We had just exhibited at the Ozwald Boeteng flagship store on Savile Row, when Leyla Simple mentioned the possibility of there being an arts commission to work closely with the Sierra Leone Embassy She could not tell me what the topic was at the time, which was revealed to me 4 month later, towards the end of December 2014. With all sorts happening around this busy Xmas period, I found that I was drawn compassionately organically towards engaging conceptual planning immediately, which is always a good indicator for me, reflecting how powerful this tragic Ebola situation effecting so many people in Sierra Leone, needed addressing. In truth I was very honoured to be granted this platform to initiate a body of work, along with some wonderful artists working collectively, sharing our global perspective on the horrors of this tragic disaster.
LS: Can you explain how you responded to the brief to create an artwork examining the Ebola crisis?
KA: I might have touched on this before, but let me try to elaborate: The incident surrounding Ebola was very scary…I was only in Ghana a few weeks prior to the outbreak, being reported by the British Media, went into overdrive. Previous to this incident, I was always concerned about the rate of death tolls, unreported medical research, and strange unnatural scientific research taking place all over the African continent. There is still very strong Neo-Colonial control, and the rural areas are mostly materially impoverished. I often wondered what can I do with my gift, my camera, or my art? This arts commission by the Sierra Leone Embassy really was in synchronicity with my thoughts and vision. So in short, I totally embraced my emotions, and decided to take the opportunity to look into the micro biological development, taking place in Africa: how much do we know about the pharmaceutical industries? I asked myself, how did they find the cure? And how much do I know about the eugenics, world depopulation, African commodities, infrastructure etc? I was rapidly realising how little I really knew,and worst still, I had to question who was informing me, and through whose gaze? I was actually in Ghana learning of particular conversations relating to the Ebola rumours becoming more real, and could see this was happening for a very long time, but when I returned to the UK, the reports were still very spare, and not of any in depth value.
I decided to address this brief with a Depth of vision, elements of self analysis, a concerted heightened presentation through the ownership of being an African Diaspora visionary. I saw this as an opportunity to lend my diaspora gaze. By me questioning it actually created so much turmoil, as I went in search for answers, leading me to metaphysical explorations bringing together various chapters of my creative journey to respond to what I call a modern day Evil Disease!! I created three large artwork pieces, all unique with their own layered perspective titled; Ebola ‘Witness’,’Disruption’,’Butterfly Defect’.
LS: As an artist of African origin was it important to you to exhibit during the United Nations Ebola global recovery conference?
KA: As an artist and an African Caribbean visual artist, it is indeed a privilege to be asked to contribute to this year’s 2015 United Nations Ebola global recovery conference. Especially as so many of Africa’s leaders will come together, including cultural ministers, to really reflect on this sad outbreak. Also my art gets to lend its narrative, beyond the rhetoric: this is indeed a very great honour and privilege.
LS: Do you think it’s vital to utilise your talents as an artist to raise awareness of global issues such as the Ebola epidemic?
KA: I have always maintained that every artist is an activist of one form or another. By saying this, I mean art has a purpose, and really needs to be recognised for its intrinsic values, born out of artist seeking to tell the cerebral truth using which ever medium necessary. It’s very important, vital, and humbling, as an artist, that I connect empathically with the good and bad in life. Having this chance to lend my talent to raise awareness, not only challenges me as a human being, it also really elevates the purpose art has to give back to the world, and will continue to do eternally.
LS: After the art has been exhibited at the UN in New York, there are plans to bring it to London and it will be auctioned off online for charities working at the heart of communities in Africa. What charities will benefit?
KA: We will be aiming to raise awareness and funds for charities Street Child www.street-child.co.uk and EXCel www.facebook.com/ExcelSierraLeone/info?tab=page_info
It is very sad that the mainstream media literally switched off as soon as people here in the UK, Europe, and America felt they were no longer at risk. The thing is, there is a major disconnect with regards to how we are taught to regard the lives of people living in Africa. I would personally want to go and create a documentary to build on this narrative. In Africa there have been so many children and adult lives affected by this unnatural crisis, and still a tremendous amount of healing and practical support required. Imagine if such a disease were to happen here, we would be decimated for decades. I hope our exhibition at the UN will raise this platform, for those survivors, as we pay our respect to those poor victims, so we can path the way to move forward with our eyes wide open.
LS: What other projects do you have on the horizon?
KA: I am always juggling several projects, and have recently started developing with a wonderful NGO group based in Congo DRC: (AFR) African Family Reunion. This will be a personal project, through which I intend to expand my internal cultural art processes, with the intention of developing and generating a very strong body of work, for future festivals, and my solo exhibition.
I have also recently been Executively appointed to take the Artists realm for an amazing and very challenging topic; Focusing on the Legacy of the great man himself, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was murdered along with 8 other innocent colleagues fighting the Oil Group Shell, and the corrupt military in Nigeria at the time 20 years ago. I will also be highlighting the disastrous effect the oil group’s post imperial policy’s have had on the lives of The Ogoni People, based in the Delta region of Nigeria. I have visionary plans to explore building an interactive installation, incorporating several visual mediums; AV, Prints, Sculpture, and Sound Design. It is an ambitious project, but one which has a very global and necessary appeal. I finish my Creative Media Production studies at the end of this year, which will give me room to really explore my 30 years archive, and to spend more time with my lovely daughter Maya.
More information about the exhibition can be found here: http://www.kambafineart.com