Art and politics. Do you usually think of these two as seperate subjects? Well, that is not the case for satirical artist, Bright Ackwerh. Bright is a contemporary Ghanaian artist who is the recipient of the 2016 Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Art and has featured on CNN’s African Voices. He was also named as one of the top 10 artists in the 2017 Barclays L’atelier and his works have been featured in exhibitions both in Ghana and internationally. His work usually critiques leadership and governance while still painting an eye-catching piece of art.
Photo of Bright Ackwerh
Photo Credit: Kwame Pocho
Ayeyi: Hey Bright. How have you been doing?
Bright: Very well. In the last few days, I have been hitting my goals so I feel all very positive and free (smiles). How have you been doing? I see you always wilding on the tl.
Ayeyi: (laughs) Just letting a few thoughts out. Let’s start off with some questions about your art. What motivated you to start satirical art?
Bright: I really wanted to express myself about things that were going on in Ghana politics and I found art could be a clever way to do it and avoid what was feared to be backlash for anyone who was doing same in other ways. Also, I discovered the work of other artists like FOKN BOIS, Fela Kuti, Akosua, Ghanatta to mention a few. So a blueprint was already laid down for me to take up and tweak to suit my voice and my vision. Around 2012, I had matured to the point that I had earned the right to do political commentary too…Only because now government policies also affected my life in the most direct ways.
Ayeyi: So you mention talking about Ghanaian politics in your work. With your art, what dialogue do you wish to create?
Bright: First of all, I want a lot more people, infact everybody, to start demanding accountability! Most of the questions I tend to ask in my work are inspired by the fact that there is little or none of that at all in my opinion. I want people to realize that it’s actually their right and responsibility in a society to demand that their leaders do the work they are elected to do diligently.
Ayeyi: True. We tend to sweep things under the carpet instead of demanding accountability. However, this can be ill received by some people. Which of your art pieces would you identify as creating the most controversy and why?
Bright: I’d definitely point to that painting I called ‘we dey beg.’ I loved that it riled up the Chinese diplomats in Ghana when their compatriots’ involvement in the galamsey was called into question. The reaction and the conversation it inspired led to many good things happening for my art and I’ve grown from that experience.
Bright Ackwerh’s “we dey beg” painting
Ayeyi: (laughs) I can see why it is controversial. When you finish a piece, are you usually satisfied with what you produced?
Bright: Yeah! If I’m not satisfied, I won’t share it! I can only imagine though how people might respond and I sometimes am surprised myself.
Ayeyi: So, is there any project that you have worked on that made an impact on you personally or artistically?
Bright: Hmmmm…Personally…Maybe a few personal pieces that earned me awards and scholarships and grants. Those are always neccessary to help me fund and sustain my practice.
Ayeyi: On the topic of funding, from your experience, do you think it is possible to solely depend on art for a living in Ghana?
Bright: Yes, it is. I really think it is. I’ve seen people do it and I’m trying to as well. It’s not an easy thing to do properly though in as much of every other thing that is worth doing (laughs).
Ayeyi: So how is a person able to get job opportunities in the art space in Ghana?
Bright: It depends on what kind of jobs you are speaking of but for freelancers like me…You’ll need a strong and convincing portfolio on hand and you’ll have to do some self-marketing as well. Social media can help with that. One can also intern for other artists or art professionals…I have done all these in varying levels in the past and I continue to do so.
A Bright Ackwerh Painitng
Title: Sanit Billy
Ayeyi: Interesting. Let’s shift and talk about influences. Who would you say are your biggest art influences?
Bright: Wow (ponders)…Aside the artists I mentioned up there….there are so many others. Including my teachers from my old school days. There are several others too whom I don’t know personally but I learn from their work online. I can’t name them all (gives a questioning stare)
Ayeyi: (laughs) Roger that. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you working on currently?
Bright: I’m preparing work for an exhibition before the year ends and also starting some other fun projects that I’m really excited about (jokingly points fingers to his lips).
Ayeyi: Ouuuu…Can’t wait for them to come out (does a little celebratory dance).
Bright: Hehe…I feel good about it
Ayeyi: (smiles) If someone wants to purchase your art, what is the process?
Bright: Slide in my dms. Nah, for real. Slide. I don’t have any agents yet and I’m still trying to be independent. So…
Ayeyi: On that note, what are your social media handles so that people can slide in your dms?
Bright: @brightackwerh on all platforms.
Ayeyi: Bright, it’s been a pleasure talking with you but unfortunately, we have come to the end of this interview. Your art is aesthetically pleasing but thought-provoking as well. A balance that makes you unique. It has been an honour talking with you and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
Bright: (smiles) Thanks for the opportunity. All your questions were organic.
Photo of Bright Ackwerh