Yaw Owusu: All That Glitters

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From June 29 to August 15, 2017, Gallery 1957 will present All That Glitters by Ghanaian artist Yaw Owusu. Through his socially engaged and visually rich practice, the artist questions the failures of Ghana’s ongoing infrastructural development.

Owusu creates sculptural installations that repurpose found objects, shifting the value of otherwise worthless materials into things of beauty. Built from countless pieces of loose change known as “pesewa” coins, his work activates urgent questions around economic and political independence in contemporary Ghana. First introduced as an attempt to cure the countries economy’s inflation in 2007, these small copper coins have almost no value in today’s financial climate, enabling the artist to use them as a primary material. Typical of Owusu’s approach to working with local agencies to develop his work, the artist has acquired the coins by negotiating with The Central Bank of Ghana – the only bank to still distribute the pesewa – a bureaucratic process that is important to the artist’s practice.

In this new body of work, he transforms devalued coins into detailed map-like surfaces. These works oscillate between notions of past and present, simultaneously referencing old colonial maps –a nod towards the economic power structures drawn by history – whilst also suggesting alternative typographies for potential resourceful futures. Although the material itself is inseparable from the failure of socio-economic structures in Ghana, the artist’s playful approach is rooted in a sense of alchemy that embraces the complexity of notions of value, exchange and locality in an increasingly global environment.

Owusu’s sculptures can incorporate as many as 24,000 coins. The bronzed coins undergo various natural and chemical treatments related to the types of commerce prevalent across Ghana, a process enacted by the artist to mimic the effects of trade and time which would usually alter the appearance of exchanged currency; he treats the coins with salt, for example, to reflect the south coast’s fishing industry, or vinegar to reference the agricultural industries of the mid and eastern regions of Ghana. Fixed onto wooden panels, draped over walls or loosely hanging onto surfaces to form a camouflage, the installations reflect on the complex processes that demarcate Ghana’s social and political systems. Like the economy itself, the sculptures are seemingly robust, however the coins are in fact in a continual state of flux, reacting or moving with their surroundings.

Yaw Owusu was born in 1992 in Accra, Ghana. He holds a bachelor of art degree in fine arts from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi. His works have featured in several exhibitions including: Silence Between the Lines, Prime Motors Showroom, Kumasi (2015); The Gown Must Go To Town, Museum of Science and Technology, Accra (2015) 16:16 The Collection, Gallery 1957 (2016); Cornfields in Accra, Museum of Science and Technology, Accra (2016); and Spirit Robot, Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Jamestown, Accra (2016).

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