William Kwamena-Poh

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WILLIAM KWAMENA-​POH

I moved to Chicago in 1995 and stayed briefly with my friend Edith Armstrong. One evening, as she was heading out with friends, she asked what I was watching on TV and happily told her it was the bicentennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty. “Child, why you watching that!? We were slaves back then”. Those words were my first introduction to social and racial activism in the US! I did a diptych called “Liberty dearest, whose side were you on when we marched?, in response to her question. The images were seen through the eyes with a split image of Liberty and a black woman and man, and images of the clan and civil rights people marching.

Over the years I’ve visited images of our constant racial injustices and inequalities softly inbuilt into my work. When I moved to Savannah with it’s history of slave auctions on the squares, I felt it was time to really question society and do more political ( if you want to call them that, I simple chose to say it like it is) images. I did a few but after reading and gaining more information I got angrier and angrier. So I switched to my fisherman series and still asked questions because most of these fishermen scenes in Ghana were found near old slave castles, so I did scenes of the door of not return, and spice market with a fading crown as we try to reduce the impact of foreign policies and ideologies. Now it’s within our living rooms. The crosses are no longer burning outside in the backwoods. Now they come wearing the best suits so you can’t even see them in plain view, but when little white boys walk excitedly into my studio, attracted by the work and RUN outside as intensely as they came in once they see my face which happens to be of color, you realize how young indoctrination of hate is started.

So I’ve combined some of my past ideas into one format that I’ll be making more statements. I believe it’s our duty as creative forces to always question society, so I’m Asking; “Liberty dearest; whose side were you on when we marched? Skittles” liberty dearest; whose side were you on when we marched? Strange fruit. I have gotten so many positive comments from people coming into the studio and seeing the Skittles piece and wanting to buy it and I have to explain that it’s part of a pair and the other half is in a group show at the Jepson Center through the 14 of this month and I don’t want to sell them separately. I want to keep the male and female energy together. Not separating families any more!