Woven into Conrad Egyir’s narrative paintings and portraits are symbols from the rich storytelling traditions of West Africa, the coded texts and visually-based languages of Ghana, and anachronisms borrowed from across cultures and historical eras. The artist incorporates graphic-design strategies and laser cut text to create new modes of representation for traditional objects, such as okyeame poma (a linguist’s staff), and for archetypes such as warrior or messenger. The compositions include oil, acrylic, glitter, Plexiglas, wood, and found fabric flowers against minimal backgrounds.
Having witnessed the social instrumentation and weaponization of images in Africa and America, Egyir removes these symbols from their original context and presents them in new configurations that challenge existing perceptions about age, sex, class, or race. The subjects in each painting take on multiple staged roles: as both an antagonist and a protagonist, a parent and child, a friend and foe, or a noble and a commoner. “It is a tool that behooves the viewer to step into the multiple incarnations of each subject,” says Egyir, “in reverence of the collective human spirit.
Patrick Quarm’s paintings explore questions of cultural authenticity and hybridity. Painting figures directly onto spliced and layered African print fabrics, the interplay between the realism of the portraits and the geometric abstraction of the textiles emphasizes the mutable nature of identity.
Quarm’s subjects range from self-portraits to family groupings; the figures are in dialogue with each other as well as with the background material, emerging from or dissolving into the patterns in the fabric. Perforations throughout the top layers reveal alternate designs underneath, creating a cultural and personal stratigraphic record that demands excavation. “If you take an individual they are made up of several stories, several histories,” Quarm explains. “You have to dig further.”
The fabric itself carries its own history of cultural exchange: commonly known as African wax print, the material originated in Indonesia and was subsequently introduced to the African continent by Dutch merchants. Different communities applied new patterns and production techniques, generating a visual language based on fusion that the artist continues to develop through his manipulation of the material.