Detail, Qhristine Dora MeloveJay, 2018
Successions and Reflections: Heirs of a New Country is the first solo exhibition by recent Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate Conrad Egyir. Egyir was born and raised in Ghana and is heavily influenced by a rich art form of storytelling in West Africa; his creative practice borrows from a pool of uniquely coded text and the visually based language systems of his roots. The artist explores the relationship between his past experiences in Africa and his present home in the United States, drawn to themes that define the then and now, disparities and similarities, and the image and the self. He analyzes the connections between the semiotics and historicity of these themes which lie within his African postcolonial upbringing and higher education in the West.
“During the swearing in of my ‘naturalization’ (a problematic word), I like many others swore an oath to relinquish my loyalty, allegiance, and citizenship to a foreign principality. “Are we no more citizens of the former?”, I asked. It felt as though a part of me had died. We are ‘Amantramanmienu’, I told them. Amantramanmienu is a royal title from the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana which means ‘He (or they) that bestride two worlds’.”
Egyir creates narrative and portrait paintings that weave borrowed superstitions and symbolic aesthetics from West Africa, anachronisms from different cultures, and a deconstruction and redefining of color and identity as defined in Western academics. A crucial aspect of how he explores these themes is through the use of subjects that are out of place in the timelines or settings of the stories he replicates and creates; adults are interchangeable with children, men with women, nobles with commoners. He seeks to transcend the notions of each subject’s perceived responsibility designated by age, sex, class, and race. He frequently uses his own likeness to tell these stories, and multiplies singular figures so that they are simultaneously victim and perpetrator, father and son, friend and foe.
For his upcoming exhibition, Egyir reflects on the ideas of successions and the intricacies of citizenship: “Whether transient or perpetual, the weight of succession brings to mind the complicated legacies inherited from predecessors. Upon naturalizing to become a US citizen during my last year of graduate school, I spent a lot of time wondering how to uncomplicate the genre of figurative painting that often gets swallowed up in identity politics.”
He says, “In Successions and Reflections: Heirs of a New Country, I created a multiplicity of identical subjects who bestride two or more national designations. They are heirs of a new abstract country whose vessels (my new word for ‘skin’) reflect a spectrum of blackness not bound by the ‘othering’ or dictations of any institute. They get to define themselves, while acknowledging their successions from the vestiges and progenitors of their potentate yet subjugated pedigree. Borrowing from Kerry James Marshall’s robust approach to deifying blackness - notions of a color once untouchable - I went a step further by introducing the spectrum of this problematic word we call ‘black’.” He paints figures draped in vessels from the lightest to darkest and the many shades in between because “there is more to us as transient beings than the vessels we carry ourselves in.”
Egyir also draws inspiration from William Blake and William Kentridge, in particular their dramatic use of figuration and poetry that captures the existential nature of their subjects. In lieu of architectural backdrops in his work, text serves as annunciations or manifestos in the making of a new people and a new abstract country. This is accompanied by a redefined frame and form of the paintings that appear as stamps, postcards, memorabilia or memoirs of a new people.
Conrad Egyir: Successions and Reflections: Heirs of a New Country, on display from January 26 through March 23, 2019.
Vestiges of the Potentate, 2018
Oil, acrylic, mounted glass and wood on canvas
90h x 112w inches
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