London-based Artist Sharon Adebisi through her journey of self-discovery and Cultural identity takes us through the journey of a foreigner in her art series “The Ghana Series“
In 2019, Ghana opened its borders to the Diaspora, marking the 400th anniversary of slaves landing in the US which is said to be the first recorded arrival of enslaved Africans in the Americas.
According to the President of Ghana Nana Akuffo-Addo, it was an initiative aimed at encouraging members of the African diaspora to visit Ghana.
With over 900,000 visitors coming to Ghana to explore its rich culture, one person stood out Sharon Adebisi, a London based freelance artist/painter.
Having never visited any country in Africa, Artist Sharon Adebisi set course on a solo trip to Ghana taking advantage of the Year of Return to explore the rich culture and people Ghana has.
Sharon Adebisi was born in East London, England. With both her parents having science backgrounds, she too went and gained a biological sciences degree in 2017. It was only when she volunteered in a rural village in Cambodia for 3 months after graduating that she discovered the significance of art, and it’s uses as a communicative tool within society. Being unable to talk with her Cambodian host family due to the language barrier, she would use drawings to engage with her family.
Sharon’s art has been a reflection of her mind. As she travels through her twenties, she aims to visually journal this period of self-discovery through contemporary paintings focused on portraiture. Whilst her pieces are created more for self-reflection and release, a welcomed by-product is others being able to relate to their subject, or be positively influenced by her thought processes.
As an art writer in July scrolling through my Timeline on Twitter, I came across a very distinct depiction of the Ghanaian community in its rawest form. Feeding my curiosity led me to an enlightening conversation with Artist Sharon Adebisi. Below is the conversation with Sharon Adebisi, in our conversation via email, Sharon takes me through her background and how a visit to Cambodia changed her life and finally to her visit to Ghana.
Before we start, can you tell us about your background and when you first started painting?
I was born and raised in London, UK into a small, hardworking family. I started painting in secondary school when I took art for my GCSE. Before secondary school, I use to only create pencil drawings, but once I started studying art at school, I ditched my drawing pencils and fell in love with brushes and paints. From the age of 14 till now, the main art medium I’ve stuck to is painting.
Every Artist has a unique style which complements their Art, What’s your style of Art?
I’d like to say my art is of a contemporary style. I don’t follow the norms of realistic art, I use unnatural colours for natural things, I don’t paint skin or faces, but instead fill those spaces with black paint. I pride myself in my paintings being out of the ordinary.
When did you decide to take this creative path?
I don’t really think I chose this creative path, it feels like this path chose me. It started off with me just enjoying drawing and using it to entertain myself when I was a kid. Then as I grew older, I’d use my drawing and painting skills to create inexpensive birthday gifts for my friends, to save money.
Over time, more people started to notice the work I was doing for friends and would ask me to paint stuff for them for a fee. I did this for a few years, especially during university to help me financially through my degree. People started calling me an artist, and guess I just started to own it!
Sharon’s work has been exhibited in various locations in London, including The Bunker Theatre, Roundhouse, OXO Tower Wharf and the Hoxton Arches, and she was a finalist during Glyndebourne theatre’s Tour Art Competition in 2019, as well as shortlisted in Jackson’s Painting Prize in 2020.
Themes are Key in every Artists work, With your works, what themes do you focus on?
I currently focus on themes regarding self discovery, cultural identify, and the challenges of being a black-british hybrid with an uncertainty of where to label as ‘home’. I create work that is personal to me and based on my thoughts and experiences, so the themes I focus on are related to what’s going on in my life at the time.
Prior to this trip to Ghana have you been to Ghana before?
Never! I had never even been anywhere in Africa before.
With the Trip Being your first time to Ghana, Tell us how your trip to Ghana inspired your series?
My trip to Ghana was the first time I had ever been on the African continent, and the fact that I was doing this trip alone made it even more of a big deal. I knew for sure that I was going to journal this significant experience. So I decided to create a series of painting; ‘The Ghana Series’ to visually journal the emotions I felt at different stages of the trip; from nervousness (The Foreigner (2020), to being overwhelmed (The Overwhelmed Foreigner (2020), to becoming acclimatized (The Acclimatised Foreigner (2020).
Generally, what perception did you have about Ghana and how did your visit change such perception?
My initial perception was that Ghanaians were very friendly and chill people because a lot of the Ghanaians that live in the UK that I know are like this. When I then traveled to Ghana, (specifically Kumasi), my perception was actually proven to be correct! I was treated so warmly, and everyone was so kind towards me.
Coming back to “The Ghana Series”,Talking about color, how did color influence this series?
Colour was a huge part of this series. I wanted to capture the vibrancy, loudness and charisma of the atmosphere in Ghana, and for a 2D painting without faces included, I felt like colour was the best way to do so. The painting in which the colours had the most meaning behind them was my second piece of the series, ‘The Overwhelmed Foreigner’ which was an illustration of a market I visited in Kumasi. The red, hot colours in the painting represent Africa and the motherland whilst the blue tones present the western world. At the time, my westernised self being present in such an african setting was overwhelming for me, and I portrayed this feeling by making the red side and the blue side of the painting have difficulty mixing well together in the middle and instead just sort of co-existing. That is how my brain felt at the time; not able to really adjust to my surroundings. In this piece, I allowed colour to help narrate a story.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently on an artistic break. I only create when I feel led to, or if I have experienced something dramatic in my life, and at the moment, this has not been the case.
As an artist how has the Coronavirus affected you and what lessons have you learnt?
Initially when coronavirus was at its peak, I ran towards art to take away my mind from the deaths and the tragedies. Painting was like an escape. This, coupled with the fact that I was now always at home due to quarantine, led to me being very productive with my art and I managed to start and complete my whole Ghana series.
The only way coronavirus has negatively impacted my art is the fact that I’ve been unable to physically exhibit my work due to a lot of exhibition spaces being closed.
However, as horrific as this pandemic has been on the world, I have actually learnt a few things from it. I’ve learnt that for me, contentment isn’t all about going out all the time and doing lots of different activities. Instead, I feel the most content when I’m at home, inwardly healthy and eating well, exercising consistently, reading books, and reducing my social media usage.
Visiting Ghana what will you say is your favorite Ghanaian meal?
Ghanaian jollof rice with shito and plantain.
Ghana is known for its vibrant music scene, what Ghanaian songs / musicians do you enjoy listening to?
Sarkodie! His energy and style is unmatched, and I rate how he has been able to consistently create hits after hits over the years. Sarkodie’s ‘Adonai’ is an oldie but goodie.
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