Established in 2020, The Noldor Residency is Ghana's first independent artist residency founded by Joseph Awuah-Darko, who Serge Tiroche has met years ago have since stayed in touch. We are happy to support the first artist in residence, Emmanuel Taku by acquiring two works for the Africa First Collection, also marking the first international collector to acquire Taku's work.
We are pleased to share an interview with Founder of The Noldor Residency Joseph Awuah-Darko and Artist Emmanuel Taku interviewed by Danielle Gorodenzik (Content Manager of Africa First).
Joseph Awuah-Darko and The Noldor Residency
Danielle Gorodenzik (DG): Tell us about yourself
Joseph Awuah-Darko (JWD): I, Joseph Awuah-Darko (b. in London), am the founder and director of The Noldor Artist Residency, an annual 4-week program inviting an emerging African artist with limited access to resources to expand on his/her practice in a dedicated studio space and retreat in Accra, Ghana.
As an African contemporary art connoisseur, collector and dealer, I have continuously looked to my Ghanaian upbringing and extensive travels to cultivate the ties between an established European art scene and Africa’s emerging cultural industries. With experience at African modern and contemporary art gallery, Sulger-Buel in London, I have actively nurtured my understanding of global art market dynamics, thereby seeking to apply and adapt them to my African roots.
DG: What inspired you to establish an artist residency? What is the meaning behind the name The Noldor Residency?
JAD: The Noldor Artist Residency reflects my aspiration to contribute to a sustainable cultural ecosystem in Ghana, one where institutional entities, commercial entities, and independent initiatives feed and complement each other. Within this ecosystem, and although a residency’s commercial function may appear more remote, Noldor is rooted in its artists’ professional development – long-term and far-reaching. While advancing a rich, grounded creative process, we actively expose our residents to the commercial imperatives of being an international artist today – all-the-while supporting the expansion of Ghana’s, and Africa’s, local collector base and art market.
Its main motive is to be a pillar within the African contemporary art ecology for emerging artists to grow and develop their practice and also to serve as an incubator and launch pad for African artists to sustain a career within the $63.7 billion global contemporary art market. The name ‘The Noldor Residency’ is derived from Lord of the Rings. In the Lord of the Rings, The Noldor created a Palantir which is essentially the all-seen eye within the utopian narrative. Subsequently, I was inspired to use the name, ‘Noldor’ in a sense positioning the Artist Residency as the all-seen eye within the African contemporary art ecology.
DG: What is your artist residency module?
JAD: Noldor unfolds across two distinct spaces. For the first three weeks, the artist resides and creates in a large-scale warehouse studio space located in Accra’s seaside La district. The final week takes place in a secluded space in the periphery of central Accra, an alternative psychological retreat where they receive personal, professional, and creative guidance. Running each Fall and with its first iteration launched in November 2020, Noldor invites its residents to produce a portfolio of works that are ultimately exhibited within the warehouse space and subsequently brought to global audiences through partnerships with international galleries.
DG: Is the residency open for international artists to apply or are you planning on only hosting African artists?
JAD: Currently, the residency is only open to African contemporary artists living within the continent.
DG: Why Accra and why this specific space for the artist residency? The residency is annual; how will the space function throughout the year?
JAD: The pace serves a curated environment filled with art books and material that would enable fresh ideas and extensive thinking for the artist. It is also a unique opportunity to be surrounded by horses and nature as a refuge away from work done in the double volume warehouse space in La, Accra.
There are other programs that run throughout the year. One of those is the Fellowship program. Noldor will, for a year, engage a Senior Fellow who will always be a mid-career established artist that inhabits our new Noldor Senior Fellow space and a Junior Fellow who will always be an artist within the local - we have two this year, Joshua Oheneba-Takyi and Crystal Yayra Anthony. The Junior Fellowship program is supposed to support artists within the local and give them a space to nurture their craft whereas the residency program is open to African contemporary artists emerging within the diaspora or the continent at large. There will also be other cultural activities that will enable us to engage the local ecology as we move forward, and my team and I are working very hard to create an itinerary for such.
The space is given and the program will incorporate a series of really specific activities. I want it to be a space for cultural proliferation and growth and comradery. We look to have a series of activities not limited to but possibly live performances, installations by Ghanaian artists within the periphery of Labadi and even Accra, and a series of talks hosting places for meaningful dialogues about the art that we celebrate. We are really looking at creating a dynamic program of activities that occur in the space throughout the year even with the annual residency program at the latter part of the year from November to December being the focus.
DG: How does the financial aspect of the residency work?
JAD: Regarding the sale of the works, half of the works produced will be made available exclusively to a coterie of local collectors as a way of building an extensive and engaged local collector base in Accra’s emergent art markets – which Ghana currently lacks. As Noldor seeks to remain commercially minded as an artist residency, we plan to meaningfully partner with primary market spaces in having some of the work shown with major galleries in London, New York, and Paris. We care about the longevity of our artist’s careers within the art market and it is our prerogative to fulfill that. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the works is paid to the artist whiles a percentage is also reinvested in the residency in perpetuity.
DG: How did you meet Emmanuel Taku, and decide that he would be the first resident?
JAD: I saw Taku’s works on Instagram and right about the same time, he reached out to me. It was then that we got in touch and I realized he was just the right person to begin the residency with his works, which he will normally describe to be poignant, potent, and present.
DG: It is the first residency round; how do you already see the impact in Accra and the local art community?
JAD: We are very proud that The Noldor Residency is Ghana’s first independent artist residency. We really believe that as far as impact is concerned, it will contribute meaningfully to consolidating the creative infrastructure within the country. As someone who came back from London on a repatriation flight in June of 2020, I could see how covid and elements of the pandemic had exacerbated already difficult situations for the artists and so I felt that it was crucial to have a space that wasn’t entirely commercial but dedicated to the nurtured development and expansion of artists within their practice. I definitely do think that this will be an anchor of support for many emerging talents and I know this will be the case for years to come.
DG: What are your aspirations for The Noldor Residency?
JAD: My aspirations are quite simple. I seek for it to be a major pillar within the contemporary art world and the Accra art ecology for burdening and curious African contemporary artists of all forms. We were happy and proud to be certified as a non-profit institution and this will enable us to continue the meaningful work way into the future. My team and I definitely look to also create a hub for artist-to-artist comradery and for the place to have a life of its own which meaningfully encourages sustained fellowship and kingship among not only Ghanaian artists but all artists who find themselves at Noldor, be it from the diaspora or the continent itself.
DG: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What led you to the route of making art?
ET: I, Emmanuel Taku, (b. 1986) hail from, work, and reside in Ghana. I studied and trained formally in Visual Arts and Textiles at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design (Ghana) for 4 years [2005 to 2009] alongside fellow figurative artists like Kwesi Botchway and Otis Quaicoe.
DG: What is your connection to flowers, what do the flowers represent?
ET: The use of floral paisley prints comes from my personal fascination with the pattern and fabric that has always been a part of my life since youth – whether as a tablecloth or in garments. I also felt that paisley represents a melting pot of cultural identity; first being fashioned in India and expanding in reach before becoming adopted into a British sensibility and finally the sartorial mainstream. I’ve always worn paisley and have been practicing portraiture and art for almost ten
DG: Tell us about your new series ‘Temple of Blackness – It takes Two’?
ET: This body of work came to me as an idea when I heard John Akomfrah speak about his experience as a child referring to museums capturing artwork by Turner and Constable as a ‘Temple of Whiteness’. I just remembered how that clicked for me and I truly wanted to create my own “Temple of Blackness” capturing black people as demi-gods or heroes without pupils or eyes.
DG: Did you start the residency knowing what you are going to create?
ET: Yes – In relation to the previous question about my new series, I had the theme behind it at the beginning of the residency.
DG: Who are the figures in your work? You often paint duos or trio, titled as sisters or brothers the figures are often touching, showing a relationship. Are they twins or alter egos?
ET: The importance of capturing two figures in juxtaposition was to create a sense of consolidation, synergy, and unity. The anthropomorphic silhouettes created by the bodies engulfed in silkscreened fabric print are emphatic of this unity.
DG: The works are large, almost life-size. Why do you choose to paint the entire body at this scale?
ET: In terms of the comparison of The Noldor Residency with my previous experiences, quite frankly, my previous studio space was rather modest and did not allow me to work with the scale or volume with which I wanted to so I found that quite limiting. The beauty of working at the Noldor 150sqm space with all its rustic grandeur is that I had the opportunity to alchemize my practice in a larger format and this was deeply gratifying.
DG: At times you leave the eyes blank and they are always staring straight at the viewer, why?
ET: The essence of leaving the eyes blank is to capture black people as demi-gods or heroes without pupils or eyes.
DG: Some works of yours include collage and it is mostly placed on the visible skin. Where do you find these papers? Is there specific content you look for or a style of a magazine?
ET: The layering of newspaper in collage format captures the essence of the power of the press as custodians of truth and I want to turn that on its head in capturing and superimposing pieces of magazine and newspaper on the faces of my demi-god’s subject. With a background in textiles and living with my sister who was always at her sewing machine, it feels good to express that lived life experience in my pieces by silk-screening for hours.
DG: Can you share with us a few words about the works acquired by the Africa First Collection My Brother’s Keeper, 2020 and The Amethyst Pair, 2020?
ET: In My Brother’s Keeper, I explored the duality of a persona and muses his dealer and friend, Joseph Awuah-Darko. In capturing the layered essence of the black bodies in my work, I seek to capture a sense of balance and conflict within a single entity captured as a demi-god. I have always looked to push the boundaries of representation and I believe it is important to celebrate the complexity of existence that black people turn to internalize. For me, the use of the green silkscreen approach on the pastel blue backdrop created a uniquely alluring contrast in this piece and the scale makes you appreciate the significance and presence of the work in itself. I have a commitment to relentlessly pursue an inclusive conversation about identity.
In The Amethyst Pair, we see that I played with interdependence and trust evident in the composition. Despite the reverend outlook of the imposing black bodies captured in this piece, we see that they are interconnected and meaningfully poised. This was to celebrate the age-old saying of Ubuntu meaning ‘I am because we are’, and to remind us of unity and strength. The amethyst purple silk screen approach paired with the intricate use of newspaper is a part of my visual language which enhances the story.
DG: How has your experience been working at the artist residency? How has it changed your work process?
ET: I feel privileged to have had this space in Accra to alchemize my practice in large format for the first time in 10 years since I began my career. The Noldor Artist Residency has served as a backbone for me to explore and experiment while meaningfully developing my voice and pushing the boundaries of my visual language since the beginning of the process on 7th November 2020.
DG: What are your plans for the future? Are there any projects on the horizon?
ET: I just finished 15 works under my figurative surrealist series titled “Temple of Blackness – It Takes Two” and I am currently developing a new body of work for a solo exhibition in Belgium. Super thrilled by the way my work has been received thus far.
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Project X | The Noldor Residency