Tuesday, 21 August 2012

In Conversation with Adelaide Damoah

Adelaide Damoah is a British artist and writer of Ghanaian descent whose work combines African and Western influences while highlighting social issues. Adelaide's d├ębut exhibition entitled Black Brits, (2006) was featured on BBC News, Channel 5 News and other regional and local media outlets in the UK. Adelaide has had four solo shows to date in the UK including Supermodels, Black Lipstick, and a domestic violence exhibition for a registered charity, the National Centre for Domestic Violence. Adelaide is currently working on a series of Art Success interviews, which are published via a popular arts and culture magazine in the UK called Lime, her own blog and an art blog called Contemporary and Modern Art. Adelaide will be publishing 100 of her Art Success series interviews in a book in 2013.

Nicole Moore (NM): In your biography, at your website: http://www.damoaharts.com/ you state, 'I paint because I have always had an inherent need to express myself creatively.' Could you elaborate?

Adelaide (AD): I was always a dreamy child. I would sit in my room and stare out of the window wistfully. I fantasised about strange creatures and other worldly things and I would do my best to draw them. I drew all over my note books and even my bedroom wall, much to my parents chagrin. In secondary school, I took GCSE art. It was then that I learned about the artist Frida Kahlo and how she expressed herself, her life experiences, emotions, dreams and fantasies, through her work. I became fascinated with her after seeing an exhibition of her work in London. This was in the 90's. One of our projects was called “Myself.” We were told to look at the work of Frida Kahlo and absorb how she expressed “herself” through her work. How she documented “herstory.” I ended up producing a painting of myself, a self-portrait. The face was smiling slightly, but her forehead was opened up and there was a crying eye inside. From that point on I was hooked! Expressing my teen angst in that way soothed my soul. After that, every relationship became punctuated with some piece of artwork; physical pain was expressed through my work. Emotional pain, joy, pleasure...everything I could express, I expressed in strange fantasy like drawings, from childhood, all the way through university and into my working life as an adult. It is the way I have always been and the way I always will be. It is just who I am.

NM: When did you start painting?

AD: I used acrylics and water colours from secondary school onwards as a hobby. I started to use oils in around 2000. I bought an oil painting instruction book and taught myself out of boredom and sheer pain during a time when I was not very well.

NM: What influences your art?

AD: Everything and nothing. I am someone who believes that art is a visual representation of the spirit of the times. Zeitgeist. Social issues, current events, the goings on in my own little world, my emotional state, a pretty or handsome face, love, sex, relationships, nature, a colour, a song, beauty other artists or simply just the need to create. It is difficult to explain... Other artists influence me a lot. Especially since I have been doing the Art Success interview series.

NM: In your video Adelaide Damoah the Painter, you say that 'art came from a point of pain'. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

AD: I kind of eluded to it earlier. In the year 2000, I was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness called endometriosis. It has since progressed and I now also have adenomyosis. The short version is that it is a painful condition which affects the womb of some women. I have had lots of medical procedures and hormone treatments. After my initial diagnosis, I was off sick for roughly five months. I had gotten used to using art as a crutch for emotional issues anyway. This was like a continuation. The illness freed me to an extent. It gave me more time to express myself in the way that I wanted to. In a way which took me to another place in my head and made me feel so much better about the rest of the world. That is what I meant by that statement. Essentially, my work took on a new life and I was able to take it more seriously because of the pain of my condition. If it were not for endo, I would not have been an artist.

NM: Your first exhibition was called Black Brits, what inspired you to choose this theme?

AD: In 2005, I met a business man who convinced me that I was ready to have an exhibition. At the time, I only had quite small scale works which were very personal to me. I have always had an interest in social issues and race is a subject which is particularly close to my heart. I knew that I wanted to make large works and I knew that I wanted the work to be reflective of something real. One night, after a heavy night with some of my best friends, we sat and talked. I had made a number of paintings for them already, so they knew my work and I had known them since I was a teen, so they knew me. We got to discussing race and how we felt as black British young people. We moved on to how certain iconic people were elevated beyond their race while us ordinary folk sometimes felt that it was an impenetrable barrier to a lot of things,not that that stopped us of course. We mulled over what Princess Diana would look like if she were born black and if she would ever have been a princess in the UK if she were. It is obvious what the answer is to that one...anyway, that is how the idea was born. A deep conversation between intoxicated friends!

NM: What made you choose the theme of Supermodels in your next Exhibition?

AD: I was really very interested in social issues and capturing the spirit of the times. The issue in 2006 which caught the imaginations of so many people around the world for some reason was the size zero debate. The whole thing was sparked off because a model by the name of Anna Carolina Reston died from anorexia-related complications. Apparently, many people were telling her that she needed to lose weight in order to make it as a model in the fashion industry. I am sure it was more complicated than that, but ultimately, she developed anorexia nervosa and it killed her. Discussions about how the media and fashion models impacted the mental health and self-esteem of young people were raging via all media outlets. It was a subject which could not be ignored and that got my creative juices flowing and Supermodels was born. After much discussion with close friends, especially my best friend, I started making the work.

NM: How difficult has it been to establish yourself as an artist in such a tough and competitive market?

AD: Firstly, I am no where near being established. I have been in the game for just six years. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn and I relish the challenge. Yes, it has been challenging to say the least. Apart from one, I have organised and funded all of my solo shows myself with the help of close friends and family who really believe in me. To get to this point, I have had knockbacks and issues, but that is what it is all about; the journey, enjoying the journey and attacking the challenges because that is what these things that others call obstacles are. They are little challenges. I would not use the word difficult. I would say to date, I have faced a number of challenges and I am still facing different challenges all the time. I get nervous, I get doubts, but deep down, there is a will and a stubborn drive that will not let me quit. This is it for me. This is my life. Art is my husband.

NM: How did it feel to see your art work merged with the article I wrote, Exploring Black Sexuality, published in Trespass Magazine in 2008?

AD: I was deeply flattered! Flattered because the piece itself was insightful and intriguing and much of what was written expressed my own thoughts and feelings about my own sexuality as a black woman. Specifically, as a black woman who was born and bred in the UK where confusing messages regarding my looks and hence my sexuality were sometimes sent and painfully received. I felt that my Black Lipstick paintings which illustrated the piece went well with it. Also, much like the article itself, Black Lipstick was about much more than its title.

NM: Adelaide, please share any tips for those aspiring painters out there?

  • Learn. Every day, learn your craft. Practice every single day. Go to university if you can. Never ever stop learning.
  • Understand that it will take time and sacrifice. Patience, diligence, tenacity. You must have all of these qualities in order to progress as an artist or as any kind of freelance or self-employed person. Know that the formula for success is 10,000 hours of practice, or 10 years before you will start to see some “success.” Art stars rarely get launched overnight or straight out of university. For most people, it takes serious work. You must have the passion for your art if you are to last. It must be like food for you otherwise you may as well get a nine-to-five job.
  • Be prepared. There is no such thing as luck. 'Luck is where preparation meets opportunity'. That is one of my favourite sayings, alongside 'Procrastination is a thief of time!' So work all the time. Keep producing work and learning everything you can about the art world and the business of art.
  • Be social. Network. This can mean going to art events if you can afford to. Socialise online. Social media is your friend. I have sold work and had well-attended exhibitions all because of social media. If not for social media, I would not be able to afford to pay for publicists and advertising to promote my shows.
  • Be friends with other artists. No one understands what you are going through more than other artists! Having a support system of artist practitioners is so important for morale. In addition, hang around with artists who are better than you! Learn from them. Do not be threatened. Everyone has their own unique journey and you can always learn from the next person. By hanging around with those who are more skilled than you, unwittingly, you stretch yourself and challenge yourself to be better. Asking questions helps form relationships and most artists are happy to help or give advice when asked nicely. Aside from this, artists often recommend each other to their respective galleries and galleries listen to their artists.
Contemporary and Modern Art Blog: http://contemporaryandmodernart.blogspot.co.uk


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