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In Conversation: Adelaide Damoah

Adelaide Damoah’s work has been described as a stroke of genius and critics say she is the one to watch. Her exhibitions and series of work to date include Supermodels, Black Brits, Black Lipstick and Abstract. I interviewed Damoah, pictured below, for NEXT newspaper a little while back and she told me about her passion for her craft, and why she uses her art to push boundaries in society. Journalists are bound by word count but this is my page, so here is Damoah in her own words.

DSC_0088Belinda: What attracted you to art and painting?

Adelaide: As a child, I can’t remember, but I do remember, I always liked to draw in secondary school. Secondary school GCSE art and science happen were my two favourite subjects and they were subjects that I excelled in. Though I loved art, I was not taking it as something that could possibly be my future. It was just something that I loved to do. There was no particular incident or person that led me to love to painting once we started in school. I just did. The artist, Frida Carlo, we did some work on her in secondary school, and from that point, I just fell in love with her and could identify with her as artist but it never occurred to me that my life would go down this path.

Belinda: Is she one of your influences?

Adelaide: When I researched her at the time, her work was very auto-biographical and practically every piece she did was some sort of punctuation point to do with something that had happened to her on a very personal level and even if she did commissions and did work for other people, there was still something of her and her experience of pain in that work. It was so raw and honest that you just could not ignore it. And for me she just came across as a woman that was very strong and determined in the face of immense pain and not only physical pain but emotional pain in her relationships as well. She was a really intense person and I like intense and passionate people. So yes, for some reason and at that age, I identified with the way she expressed herself through her work and that’s when I started doing that. One of my very first projects was one of myself. The teachers asked us to do it based on Frida Carlo’s work and the way she worked. They asked us to think about our own personal experiences and use that to paint ourselves and I ended up doing a   self portrait with a gash in my forehead and there was an eye inside my forehead and I was crying. To be honest, I can’t remember what I could have possibly been going through at the age of 15 to do such a deep and emotional piece but somehow, whatever it was, teenage angst, whatever it was, I managed to express it through that work and that’s where it started from.

Belinda: Are your personal experiences also serving as a punctuation mark on the work your work?

Adelaide: Yes, and it’s been something that has been unconscious. It is not something I consciously do. I didn’t make a conscious decision that I was going to live my life like this and put full stops after each event by doing a painting but that seems to keep on happening but instead of it being purely personal now, I have tried to broaden out that aspect by looking at society and me and my little world that I live in but on a broader scale.

Belinda: Are you afraid of breaking taboos or breaking taboos with your art?

Adelaide: It is not because I’m a trouble maker or I want to piss people off or anything like that. It is because of… I mean for me, for a long time maybe because of my African upbringing, I was afraid to offend people or I was afraid to get my parents all upset and I was afraid that an aunty or uncle would say, ‘oh, what a disgrace,’ that kind of thing but I got to a point, where I thought if I live my life like this I will never develop as an artist. And I thought I’m an adult now and I don’t need to be afraid of offending anybody. So I will say what I want to say, however I want to say it through my work and if people get offended, well that’s probably a good thing…it means they will remember you. I have come to the conclusion which is, if you are worried about being mildly offensive or might get some uptight person a little bit upset; then you are not going to push any boundaries. Whereas, if you made the decision to produce any work which is gutsy, honest and true, and if people get upset, then for me, it means I have touched on a nerve and for me, maybe that person will remember me and remember my work as a result of that. For me, the most important thing is hat I say what I want to say through my work. How people take it is how people take it.

Nicola - From Damoah's Series On Domestic Violence For The National Centre for Domestic Violence

Nicola - From Damoah's Series On Domestic Violence For The National Centre for Domestic Violence

Belinda: So, you never anticipate what their reaction or response is going to be?

Adelaide: No, there is no point. There is no point because I am not a psychic and what might be offensive to one person might be completely fine to somebody else. There is no point in worrying and thinking that if I do this, somebody is going to get upset because if you do that, then you are never going to produce any work of merit because you will be holding back all the time. Which, even though I say that, I am struggling to let myself go all the way, the way that I would like to.

Belinda: In terms of describing yourself as an artist, your work and your style, how would you describe yourself?

Adelaide: I don’t know. People ask me this question all the time and for me, I just work. I just paint and what it is, is what it is and I hope that what it is something that people can relate to and can identify with and that people would want to discuss and remember. In terms of describing the work, I paint. I just paint and my subject matter is human beings and what we go through. I think that’s the best description. I can’t compare myself to any other artist movement or style of art because I am not sure if I do fit into any of those boxes and I’m not sure I want to.

Belinda: You relate your style of painting to a writing technique called automatic writing, why?

Adelaide: Well, automatic writing or automatic drawing was something that was pioneered around 1919 by the Dada Movement. There was a guy called Andre Breton and Andre Masson and it was a technique for deconstructing traditional styles and that was the beginning of the surrealist movement and those artists were interested in telling the truth of the time they were living in, obviously, war time and for them, the art was not about being the art itself but an opportunity for the perceptions and times they were living in. For me, when I do automatic drawing, its is something that I have unconsciously done as a kid and it was when I read about the surrealist movement and the Dada movement that I realised it had a name and is used in psychiatry as a form of therapy and it can help you get a lot of emotional stuff out. Sometimes, it may be that I have meditated on something and start sketching without even thinking about it. It may even be scribbles or it may be faces but always what comes out is something that is so personal to me and always something to do with what I am going through on a mental or emotional level. It is only the people that I’m close to who are able to deconstruct what exactly it is that I have done. And for me, that is a part of my journey as well, telling the truth through my work. I haven’t applied that technique for a series like supermodels or lipstick or the black series because those were conscious decisions to do those works but it’s the ones in the abstract pieces, they come from automatic drawing that I have done and I have been stepping up with the automatic drawing recently. I do it more or less everyday now.

Belinda: When you start painting, do you have any idea how it’s going to end and what the finished product will be like?

Adelaide: My hand and mind decides. And it depends, for example, with the supermodels series; those were about as planned a work as I could have, by drawing them first and then the painting. But you never ever know what it is going to turn out like in the end. So, you just have to go with it because if you try to make it look like what you planned, you might not have something true or it might be stiff.

Belinda: What subjects and topics do you like to paint or talk about?

Adelaide: I’m obsessed with the human body and the human form and everything that we go through as human beings and the human experience. Its just life.

Venus by Adelaide Damoah

Venus by Adelaide Damoah

Belinda: What kind of discussion do you want your work to evoke?

Adelaide: In terms of what the messages are, that’s up to the public. Different people for example, with the super model series took different things from that series. My thinking wasn’t to get people to come around to my way of thinking, whatever that way of thinking was when it comes to those issues. Or the debate about being a size zero model; it was just a way of documenting it.

Belinda: You use your craft to bring attention to issues and causes that need a voice. Are you concerned about what people might think or say, that you are pushing your art by highlighting a cause?

Adelaide: Well, that is something that can’t be helped. I’m trying to highlight these issues but in doing so, my work will be publicised, so there is no point in trying to deny that isn’t going to be a package. That is the reality of helping out. In some ways, I’m giving but I’m also receiving at the same time because I will be getting extra publicity as a result of that. Personally as an artist, I don’t see anything wrong with that. And from my point of view, maybe it’s because I come from a business of the background, I don’t see anything wrong with publicity, I don’t see anything wrong with sales, whereas some artist do and get offended by you just making that statement. For me, it is all part and parcel of what I am doing. What I am trying to do is to have a good career which is sustainable and part of that is sales and publicity, and if I can also help a charity cause along the way, then I don’t see why not. I don’t see why you should be ashamed to want to publicise my work.

Belinda: You are affected by the medical condition, Endometriosis and you are involved with charities to bring awareness to this debilitating condition in other women.  Where do you get your strength and what’s your word of encouragement for people who are affected by the things that you have been challenged by and you are now using your work to highlight.

Adelaide: For me, I believe thoughts become things. Whatever you think in your mind, it becomes a reality. Its all about practice and for me, luck is where preparation meets opportunity. As long as you continue to practice and you are producing whatever that you are producing and you keep your mind and eyes open to opportunities and when those opportunities make themselves available to you and they will, then you will be in a position to take advantage of those opportunities. Its quite cliché what people say about positive thinking, but it is true. It is about positive thinking, it is about being determined and it’s about never letting other people’s negativity influence what you know ultimately that deep down you can achieve.

Belinda: Is your medical condition a subject you like to deal with through your work and painting?

Adelaide: I have done, it’s not something that I have looked at as a subject for a while now because my work has been kind of social commentary, and I suppose you could call it, a perception and criticism of the times that we live in now. That’s the way that I view my work. As well as it being quite personal, I have not approached that subject in my work for a while but people say that regardless of whether I am trying to approach that subject or not, they say that they notice pain in the work and they can tell that it is coming from a dark place. So, I suppose that fundamentally, pain will influence whatever I do and whatever subject matter it is.

Pain from the Abstract Series by Adelaide Damoah.

Pain from the Abstract Series by Adelaide Damoah.

Belinda: You are also working on increasing your international presence, any reasons why you waited until now to make this move and push with getting yourself out there?

Adelaide: I had always planned that I was going to take my work international. That was always planned. And the things that happened so far, for example, the 2009 exhibition in Budapest, was purely coincidence. The gallery was searching for British artists on the net and they approached me and I agreed to do it.  These things have just happened this way like they sometimes do and I’m going to run with it and take myself out there.

Belinda: Is the art world is ready for you and your work?

Adelaide: Well they better be, because I am coming whether they like it or not.

Belinda: Do you have a dream place where you would like to exhibit your work?

Adelaide: I would like to go to the Venice Biennale or the Frieze Art Fair or the Art Basel in Miami art fair which is big and these kinds of big art fairs because when you get invited to represent the UK, then you know you are going places.

Belinda: You prefer being referred to as an artist and you have maintained that stance. Are you concerned about being boxed up as an African artist or a black artist?

Adelaide: First and foremost, I want them to see the work before they see me because it is about the work. At the end of the day, I’m what I’m and as human being we will make judgements and they will try to put me in a box. So it’s not something I sit down and worry about. In terms of what I call myself, first and foremost, I call myself an artist. Obviously my parents are from Ghana, I was born in the UK, so my heritage will have a huge influence on my work. My heritage will have a profound influence on part and parcel of who I’m. So, I’m what I am and people will accept it or not accept it?

Belinda:  What should we expect from you in the next few years?

Adelaide: I have 12 years planned, so I have lots and lots of subjects. Obviously, the plans that I have are dynamic but they are not static, it changes all the time. So in terms of what to expect, who knows because it changes all the time.  Who knows what’s in store, just watch this space. There are lots of things that I have planned in the pipeline and one of them is a high profile group show of black British artist, which I am organising. I’m the project manager and at the forefront of that. And it will be in October. There is loads of stuff. So in terms of what to expect, expect the unexpected.

My Work Is A Social Commentary

All paintings/images are by Adelaide Damoah. Do not reproduce without permission.

Image of Adelaide Damoah by Ola Shobowale


7 Responses to “In Conversation: Adelaide Damoah”

  1. Myne Whitman says:

    Her art is really eye-catching! Nice interview.

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Myne for taking your time to check it out. She is good.

  3. Deborah says:

    Lovely work of art! I hope that her heritage brings her only positive influence. Belinda you deserve an award for your work…

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Deborah, that is one of the nicest comments ever. Thank you and do visit us again and!!!!

  5. Gbemi says:

    I liked this interview. She comes across as confident and sure of herself. That I admire. Self belief will take you places. And her work is good, so she has nothing to worry about.

  6. Ola Shobowale says:

    Great interview Belinda

  7. Belinda Otas says:

    Thank you Ola.

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