Grad Story #30
Grad Story #30
MFA, Visual Art
Let me get this question out of the way first! You’re from Ghana in West Africa. Tell me your experience with winter here in Grand Forks.
Yes, Ghana is close to the equator – It’s a tropical country with long dry season and a short rainy season, so it is very different! But I had spent some time in the UK, in the northern region of Lancashire, so I had experienced winter there. I visited several times before I decided to stay in Ghana after I got married.
Tell me how you came to be at the University of North Dakota.
After being back in Ghana for a while I decided to pursue my Masters program. I had done my bachelors degree at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, Ghana, and my preferred discipline was metal.
After I finished my BA, I had an opportunity with work with a jewelry company in Ghana. That was how I started traveling – I first came to the US when I attended Stewart’s International School for Jewelers in Jupiter, Florida to do a refresher program for a couple of months. I’d hoped to be able to work in the UK and earn enough money to open my own shop, but the money wasn’t quite enough. I did it for a few years but it wasn’t profitable. That was when I decided to do my Masters program. The only problem was that I didn’t have a strong portfolio after my undergraduate since we didn’t put an emphasis on creating a portfolio. The advantage I had, though, was working in the jewelry business, I could take photos of the works I did for clients even though it was commercial, rather than artistic.
I happened to be do some research and was on (UND professor) Donovan Widmer’s web page so I called him and talked to him! I told him my background and he encouraged me to apply. He even collected me from the airport when I arrived.
I quickly realized I wasn’t really comfortable with the accommodation I had organized since I wanted to have a kitchen where I could cook for myself. I ended up meeting a friend who asked me to stay with him while I waited for an apartment to open up on campus. That’s how my academic career started here! I used to leave early to go to the studio, and I’d stay late. I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone, so I spent a lot of time at the studio! Even when I got my own apartment, I’d developed the habit of working in the studio for long hours. Some of my colleagues would tease me about sleeping there.
Can you talk about some of the differences between working in commercial jewelry and what you are doing with the Fine Arts pieces?
Commercial jewelry can be a little monotonous – clients will often bring a design or pick a design from the catalog, so you tend to do similar things over and over.
But the University of North Dakota is a research institution, so you need to develop a concept for your work. There was that flexibility as I was encouraged and allowed to explore more based on the concept.
In your artist statement for Adinkra the Messenger, your final exhibition, you talk about the social, political, religious and historical concepts that forged your ideas. Can you expand on that?
Yes, it’s all about having a concept. Some of the pieces I started without having titles, and some did. Those that did might have come about after a conversation with family or friends back home. I remember one of the pieces came from a conversation with someone back in Ghana about the water not flowing from the tap. I’ve been here for three years, and never had to think about the water not flowing from the tap, but in Ghana this happens. Before taps were placed in homes, one had to go to the stream to fetch water with a pot or bowl, and if the stream was dry, you had to look elsewhere for water. So with that particular piece I tried to blend the modern way of living with the tap, with the problem of finding water back home.
Another was like a question mark entitled “Why?”. This idea came to me around the time of a revolt in northern Africa. A lot of people were revolting the political leadership. We don’t really have any government system working for us. If there’s a coup d'état we complain, if it’s democracy we complain, if it’s a dictatorship we complain, so what kind of government are we looking for? And when something happens most of the time it is women and children who are disadvantaged.
Looking at the piece” Your Way or My Way of Governance” is another example of that. It shows a map of Africa with holes in it that represent the imperfections of the continent’s leadership, like bullet holes of destruction. And on one side of it is a small pot that represents wisdom. Why are we not using the wisdom we have? Africa has a lot of wealth and resources – it’s just mismanaged, so this is how I came to create this piece.
There are also some textiles in the exhibition. Ghana has a strong weaving tradition so I talked to my committee after my second review. They were a little skeptical since jewelry was my primary discipline. But I sent all the pieces on my second review and they agreed to let me use them in the exhibition, and I had to decide which ones to use. I ended up with about 14 metal pieces and about 12 fiber pieces. One of my jewelry pieces is now in the UND Art Collections on display in the new Gorecki Alumni Center. They have two of my fiber pieces too.
The challenge came when deciding how to display these pieces for the exhibit. I didn’t want them to be displayed in a typical jewelry style where pieces lie flat. So I decided on the Plexiglas frames to display them upright and you can see them from both sides. I also designed and built the frames for this exhibit so I had to learn that too!
All the pieces are tri color – copper, nickel and brass. At home, I was working in gold. I didn’t even work in silver – the apprentice would do the silver. I was just comfortable working in gold - it feels different. But when I came here, I couldn’t afford to use gold. My first piece was brass, and I just didn’t really like it. So I made the decision to use three metals combined for all of the pieces. The idea was to introduce color. Africans can’t do without color. I like the combination.
You graduated with your MFA last year, and this year you are being awarded with the Distinguished Creative Exhibition Award. I was so surprised!
How did you learn you were awarded?
I received a letter – I didn’t even know I had been nominated! I knew something was going on since I was asked to provide all of my pieces – photos, artist statement et c. – again. But everyone was very tight lipped. So when I got the letter, I had to ask whether it was true! I couldn’t believe it.
What does this mean to you?
For me, it is my major breakthrough. Apart from some department awards, this is a major award for me. I felt one day it might happen but I didn’t know when or where or even how.
What are you doing now?
I am doing a Master of Technology degree so I can combine the art with the technology in an industrial sense. I am also working with UND Art Collections as a Graduate Research Assistant. My goal would be to do a PhD in Education, but I am considering if I would finish this first. I have to discuss this with the family first. I’d like to have a teaching position but I don’t have a formal background in Education. There is a shift towards needing to have PhD to teach in a university in Ghana. So even if you have an MFA, you would probably need to do a PhD in Arts Education. So I may be at UND for a while if I pursue my PhD.