As anyone knows who attended the artist talk with William Kwamena-Poh on Thursday, November 14 at the Jepson Center, he believes in the power of art to tell stories and to connect people across their differences. The Journey is Mine: Chapter One is a solo #art912 exhibition with the Savannah-based artist Kwamena-Poh (B. 1960) focused on watercolor paintings of everyday life from his native Ghana, West Africa. On his frequent visits to Ghana, Kwamena-Poh photographs tableaus of modern life that capture his attention, from the busy atmosphere of the fishing docks to the hubbub of the market, along with sensitive, introspective portraits of Ghanaian women and children. Kwamena-Poh’s work not only illuminates the culture and people of Ghana but invites viewers to seek deeper meaning in the images of a place and people who historically have been disenfranchised.
Using the connecting theme of the fisherman, Kwamena-Poh ties together the market scenes and portraits of women and children as interconnected through the human needs of nourishment, love, and family. The paintings are filled with educational opportunities to see beyond the surface level of the paintings and to explore Ghanaian cultural references and symbols. When Kwamena-Poh moved to the United States in the early 1980s, he had to field many questions about Ghana that revealed an ignorance of his native culture and society. His artwork offers a way to educate viewers, not in a didactic manner, but through encouragement of interest in cultures beyond one’s own borders.
As a self-taught artist, Kwamena-Poh’s journey has meandered and grown in ways that continue to make his practice an evolution. While his father, a history professor, wanted Kwamena-Poh to teach history, he instead found an authentic means to tell that same narrative through his art. Kwamena-Poh continues to tell stories to this day, as an artist with a studio at City Market. He has been in the heart of Savannah since 1995.
The exhibition The Journey is Mine: Chapter One will be on view at the Jepson Center from November 15, 2019 through May 25, 2020. This exhibition is organized by Telfair Museums and curated by Erin Dunn, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.