Sunday, 15 April 2018

BON Voyages Accra: Gallery 1957 Presents Bright Ackwerh & Michael Soi in "Almost True"

  




   More and more, it seems to me that the "Wakanda Moment" of the post-Black Panther cultural landscape is characterised by opportunism, albeit less so by facile social buzzwords and more by the idea that the world may be ready to take Africa more seriously in creative terms, a Moment whose legs last longest as long as we ourselves are willing to carry them on our own broad backs

   How else to account for the turnout of the young and clued-up hashtag generation at this week's opening of "Almost True" by Bright Ackwerh of Ghana and Michael Soi of Kenya at the Kempinski Hotel Accra's Gallery 1957, which thronged from the dental surgery-whites of the main space to the spacious foyer beyond it, floors overlaid with sturdy tarp and duct tape to combat the dark side of every art gallerist's party favour, the open bar. In Ghanaian society, this level of public enthusiasm remains outmatched only by weddings, flash mobs and funerals


   That said, never underestimate the Ghanaian desire for a few good  schadenfreudian laughs, a facet that these two painters more than cater for. Soi's traditional canvas paintings, supplemented by printed bags and accessories, may have juxtaposed a tad glaringly with Ackwerh's detailed digital caricatures, but then the synergy in appealing group shows lies not only in the imagery but the messages as well. Even if one had not read the press release, a cursory scan of both sets of work unveils satirical meanings that are both caustic and cautionary, with the target range filling the further I crossed the room



All works by Michael Soi

   Soi's ponderings on Ghana and China's "special relationship," (to paraphrase Warren Ellis, we're simply choosing the face of the powers that are screwing us next) and now #metoo-relevant sexual assaults perpetrated by the kind of holy men who may have cash machines installed at work landed well, albeit with a familiarity that was possibly a little too comfortable in aesthetics if not subject matter. As one working in copywriting and marketing, I know there's sometimes a necessary utility in a traditional and obvious delivery, but I've also built Mode Parade and even my fine art / commercial photography practice on the juxtaposition and tensions the analogue-digital collision often results in




All works by Bright Ackwerh

   Thus 
it was Ackwerh who ultimately generated more discussion when I solicited opinions in the post-show carousing that followed. Digital art is  relatively new territory for Ghana, despite the prevalence of overly Photoshopped wedding and advertising photography, which only really surprises if one forgets that this is part of a continent known for diminishing or eradicating its own traditions to slavishly follow the mores of the West. Ackwerh's commentary is ripped-from-the-headlines unsubtle and he gladly professes a love of popular culture, but damn it if his results aren't amusing and biting. For one, he puts stories and faces to his works, from Presidents Akufo Addo and Macron to Kanye West's 'Famous' video, whilst indulging in a parodic bent that goes as far as to recontextualise Queen Elizabeth II becoming the world's longest reigning monarch following the 2017 resignation of Robert Mugabe - a man she once awarded a knighthood to - as a storyline from Game of Thrones


   Whilst my thoughts may seem rather measured, it's to its credit that "Almost True" makes no bones about its intent. This isn't an environment in which subtlety is recognised and rewarded - it's one in which Soi and Ackwerh have embarked on careers that invite familial disdain, conservative condescension and constant self-reflection in a way that is less notable in the likes of Britain, Germany and America. Choosing their marks and shouting out loud at them isn't a bug. It's exactly what they need to be doing to make their presences known and their opinions concrete

Bright Ackwerh with friends

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Fragments of the Mind: Travel in Ghana



Image taken by myself for Barima Photography with a Sony Alpha A7ii with an Olympus Zuiko 50mm legacy lens

   Four years mark the time between my visits to Accra, capital city of Ghana, which, as a British-born and based Ghanaian, gave me much to engage with and celebrate today. The speed with which life in Accra has continued to adapt Westernisms gathered pace over the second tenure of the previous governing administration, thumbing its nose at the infamous, attendant "Dumsor" period: four years of electrical load shedding that plunged the country into continual blackouts and challenged the normally irrepressible megawatt smiles of its people. Thankfully, Dumsor's effects were much less felt when I visited Accra at the end of 2016. Indeed, the city bore the hallmarks of the Christmas seasons I remember from my lifelong family visits - glamour to make the West End of London resemble a Tuesday night in Stoke; moreish banquets of jollof rice, grilled meats and peppery stews; parties commencing at midnight and genuinely all-ages dancefloors at 2am in clubs, streets or at home

   Still, I found constant reminders of Accra's new face, with most billboards (Ghana's primary mode of advertising) bearing rendered announcements of town house and apartment developments stretching all around the metropolis. The previously completed offerings impress to this day - the multifunctional Vilaggio development, situated minutes from Kotoka Airport, affords the best view of Accra for miles, which I took in from its alluring Sky Bar. This aspect, along with its live music programme made me something of a regular during my stay  - despite the appetite for Afrobeat that informs many travellers, Accra's live musical lifeblood remains jazz, which Sky Bar, +233 and Table Bay Bar deliver to local acclaim. However, though heartened to see my family's homeland galvanised (literal prayers to improve road quality and safety over the years have begun to be answered, for one), I couldn't help but sense an incoming loss of Tropical Modernism, the European-led architecture that met Ghana's heat and dust with airy and rational spatial solutions, in favour of anonymous neo-classical or exuberantly adventurous glass-and-steel designs that veered from overly busy to curiously unformed and, on occasion, aesthetically bland

   With the end of the working week came the expected opportunities for getaways and I chose to spend time with my pampering relatives in Kumasi, Ghana's second city and home of the resplendent King of the Ashanti people, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II, every inch a traditional tribal institution in a modern world. Whilst the general mood was reflective due to the recent passing of the King's mother, Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II, the Queen Mother, Kumasi's homely, elegant atmosphere offered a calming antidote to Accra's mixture of business pace and unending traffic. So too did a later trip to Aburi, a mountainous region overlooking Accra, affording me another breathtaking view of a city that positively shines as the dusk sets in

Also captured for Barima Photography with a Sony Alpha A7ii with an SMC Takumar 28mm legacy lens

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Mode Parade Reviews Canali S/S 2017




   I don’t know about you, but I am getting older

   Tastes shift, body parts misalign, hormones may mellow. The rebel often becomes the classicist. Mick Jagger has a knighthood (and he’s far from the only offbeat example). I don’t dress in the same excitable, though somewhat haphazard fashion I once did in my 20s. Nothing is truly set in stone. Even traditions

   Traditions need to reinvent themselves – where necessary –  to stay relevant; often, someone with a love for such things does this themselves. In this milieu, it was the modernisers, modernists and mods that made suiting a desirable thing to the young in the 1950s and 1960s; the likes of Michael Fish, Tommy Nutter, Edward Sexton and Antony Price in the 1960s and 1970s that catered to a flamboyantly refined rebel; Giorgio Armani imbuing suits with a certain relaxed loucheness in the 1980s and Hedi Slimane veering deftly from luxurious, aristocratic minimalism in the late 1990s to tight insouciance in the ensuing decade. Simply put: suiting always finds a way to stay interesting; often even the most interesting form of menswear available





   Canali, who approached me to review their upcoming spring/summer collection, are normally viewed by the online cognoscenti as stalwart traditionalists, albeit with a signature Italian flair. Message board mavens have mused over their cuts and craft, whilst wondering how many sprezzatura points their patronage will earn them when prepping their next What I’m Wearing Today home shot-editorial. I like to think of Canali in the vein of tradition refiners. They don’t seek to reinvent the wheel; rather, they evolve carefully with the times or reprise adventurous ideas that worked and could easily become part of a canon





   One of the best reasons to buy into Italian-made clothing products is the sheer range of great fabrics on offer, an area this collection does very well in. Given its seasonal aims, cotton, linen and lighter woven wool are naturally present and correct; however, in keeping with the Italian bravura approach, standard items are rendered in upscale, inventive versions of stalwart materials. I look to the suits and separates made from malfile cotton, a normally rougher looking material suddenly evolved into a refined, natural graphite version of itself. Or the subtlety of the reversible pique jacket that enables the wearer to hint at the bold geometric print of its cotton-silk side when worn as its leather self. Or the neckscarves that make one want to periodically run their fingers along them

   And that’s to say nothing of the overall tailoring. Canali can be relied upon to cut clothing and cut it well. And given the season, it’s also cut for comfort, resulting in an appealing paradox of formal looks that are nevertheless aimed at the nearest party (how’s that for an Italian tradition?). Jagger would be very tempted. Perhaps you may be, too



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Moments in Cocktails - Armistice



   Over a year ago, I found myself pondering how to get around the requirement of paying the price of a London cocktail in order to enjoy a cocktail whilst living in London. The answer is weirdly simple: acquire a cocktail sensei and obsessive tendencies. Adjust to taste

   Mixologists, practicing or otherwise, naturally develop signature peccadilloes and mine tend towards the sour, like my opinion of metropolitan humanity on a Thursday night, and the dry, like my humour. The Armistice cocktail, in a near-totemic manner, embodies the latter

   It's not intended to (sweetly) charm and the already endearing result is all the more so for it. It is calibrated for one who is content to drink alone, or in rare company - the sort that only offers trenchant remarks and observations, once every so often.  Despite the vaguely esoteric combination - Last Word/Final Ward stalwarts Green Chartreuse and Maraschino plus the latter's Brooklyn bedfellows, dry vermouth and rye - it is not fancy, but rather a base-heavy aromatic that produces pensive pleasantry through its mixture of herbals (no recipe puts the ever-distinctive Green Chartreuse in the corner) anchored by the rye (alright, a little fancy - quietly so). With this one, it's all in the aftertaste

  • Created by Erik Hakkinen, Zig Zag Café, Seattle
  • 1 1⁄2 oz Rye (Rittenhouse100) 
  • 1⁄2 oz Dry vermouth (Noilly Prat, 'officially;' Cocchi Torino, in my case)
  • 1⁄4 oz Green Chartreuse 
  • 1⁄4 oz Maraschino Liqueur
  • 2 ds Bitters, Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged
   Stir it with ice, strain it, drink it. And ponder

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Mode Parade Patron Saint: Jason King



Author's note: This was originally written in 2012 for the Mode Parade Tumblr; since deactivated

   When it comes to personal style, few today are able to do it as well as the fictional

   Mode Parade Patron Saint Jason King blurred the aesthetic lines between himself and his actor, Peter Wyngarde, to the point that one of the few ways they could be told apart is that King preferred women

   Wyngarde is quite a charismatic fellow, by all accounts, so it is quite sad that the press, the public and his profession would not let his career-damaging homosexual indiscretion slide - precisely the sort of inflexible moralising that can make the world a less engaging place to live in. It’s the calibre of charisma that made him a star and sex symbol, and here makes him the picture of enviableness, inhaling from a Sobranie whilst wearing one of his many Peacock-era matching shirt/tie ensembles, practically baiting the Good Taste Brigade as so he does

   Very much of the moment, in so many ways. But moments are all we ever get, and some last far, far too briefly

Sunday, 9 November 2014

XTC - 'In Loving Memory of a Name' (1983) (Lest We Forget)

   I freely admit to being the type that ranks Mummer rather highly in the XTC canon. And since I'm no longer an adolescent, I won't mind much that this is purportedly among the more combustible opinions one can share over the combined works of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, Swindon's very own Lennon and McCartney (if such a thing is indeed comprehendible. It's Swindon

   Should one wish to stereotype the band's leaders in the ultra bland sense, Moulding was always the more contemplative one - I'd try "sensitive," but Moulding wasn't the one singing screeds about his ex-wife and the denouncement of God. His best moments make gliding melodies of mournful wistfulness and this, rather than composition or clever lines, is exactly what 'In Loving Memory of a Name' exemplifies. Partridge provides my favourite emotive moments on Mummer - no surprise, given his larger rate of songwriting output - but '... Name' is the tune that brings me closest to its narrator's state of mind, where impressionistic imagery, getting lost in the moment, an ambiguous aside at Christianity  and a respect for England's fallen fighters give direction to the motoring rhythm and perhaps what feels like every rockist musical flourish Britain has produced between the 15th century and 1983. The sweet sort of sincerity, in essence

   And aptly, one for Remembrance Day. "England can never repay you," indeed


Thursday, 30 October 2014

La Cabina (The Phone Box), 1972, Spain {English Subtitles}

   I certainly don't think anyone who views this will feel the same way about phone booths ever again. Whilst I couldn't help but become attuned to an apparent evocation of our great modern malaise (trapped and helpless on the Planet of the Pudding Brains, where compassion comes in last place to hedonism and self-interest), other commentators readily held up La Cabina's narrative as emblematic of the days of General Franco and all the eliding of human rights that went with it

   I suppose that one just had to be there

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Cathal Smyth - A Comfortable Man, Live, October 2014



   To Wilton's Music Hall in East London last night, on the invitation of my old friend, artist Andrew Hancock, where I produced a set of photographs of the man we still call Chas Smash of Madness, resplendent amongst a sonorous orchestra, a songbird in black and the work of 50 contemporary artists directly inspired by Smyth himself. Nice work, if you can get it

   What bodes well for this album launch, which has two further nights at Wilton's to go, and indeed, the album itself is that the roguishly avuncular Smyth (who made your author, at least, feel as if in the company of the favourite uncle who casually turns the air blue and quickly moves along before the matriarch tweaks his ear) somehow managed to start out strongly and end on an even better finish. I suspect the builder's tea that he periodically topped up from with the appetite of Popeye


   Madness is one of this country's most resonant (and entertaining, lest we forget) bands. So, for anyone who may be in attendance tonight or tomorrow, or plans to be, I can assure you that rarely do you get a safer pair of hands to guide you through his new and warmly folkish material. Anticipate big choruses, assiduous charm, precision timing, band crushes and one big, open heart

   For you'll need every ounce of that goodwill whenever you try to get served at the Mahogany Bar




Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Dutchman by LeRoi Jones; The Crate Gallery, 2014


Kedar Williams-Stirling as "Clay," September 2014

   Jotham Annan is a RADA-honed actor and director of stage and screen, whose credits include the BBC's Holby City and Casualty, and versions of As You Like It and The Browning Version (everyone's favourite Rattigan?). To disclaim, he is also my cousin. I'm proud

   Over the past month, I have provided photography and costume styling for a new production by Jotham of 1964's The Dutchman, an interracial two hander written by Jones, later Amiri Baraka, whom I have discovered late in life. An African-American playwright, activist, writer and critic with a penchant for trenchant monologues and non-sequiturs of the disquieting kind, judging from this particular work, he was a natural attractor of the controversy that dogs the outspoken; doubtless, I will find pronouncements and quotes of his to embrace and discard with time

   Tonight ushers in the opening night at Notting Hill's The Crate Gallery, helmed by my old friend Matthew Gerrish. The Crate is not known for its voluminousness and thus each performance of this short run (tonight to Friday, this Sunday and next Wednesday and Thursday) will accommodate less than 30 people only. Nevertheless, compromised though I may be, it is worth purchasing tickets for next week's performances, which were added after the promising selling out of this week's

   In these days of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, to name but two, a text like The Dutchman is not only entertainment, but something of a yardstick for America's entangled multiracial structure, exactly 50 years prior, with which to compare to today. And it is exactly this challenge to muse on where America has been going in light of these atrocities that makes it worth producing today

BON




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