Atta Kwami sketching African artefacts in the museum store. Image courtesy Pamela Clarkson.
Not all museum projects are part of a long-term plan. Some come about by chance and it was through a stroke of good luck that I was at World Museum when the Ghanaian artist and curator Atta Kwami paid a visit to the African displays in our World Cultures gallery a few months ago. On that occasion I was able to meet Atta over a coffee in the museum café to discuss his current work.
Atta kindly agreed to exhibit some of his work in the World Cultures gallery later in the year and I invited him to do some preparatory sketches for the project at the museum stores. Atta jumped at the chance of getting behind the scenes and ended up spending three days sketching at the museum store with his wife Pamela Clarkson, who is also an artist.
Atta was inspired to make working drawings of objects from many different regions of the African continent during his three days of sketching. The items he chose to make studies of included, brass gold weights and ceramic vessels from Ghana, silver jewellery from the Sahara, East African beadwork, Nigerian ankle ornaments in brass, and carved wooden utensils from Central Africa.
Brass box lid donated to the museum by A. R. Chinnery in 1906. One of the Ghanaian objects sketched by Atta Kwami
Atta thinks of his drawings as visual exercises, a bit like a musician’s “finger exercises”, and as a form of visual note taking. The drawings he made at the museum store are a first step towards a series of prints he will make for an exhibit in the introductory area of the Africa section of the World Cultures gallery at World Museum. Atta is thinking of calling his series 'Prints in Counterpoint', because he sees his images as providing additional ways of seeing and understanding the African artefacts in the museum’s collection. Counterpoint is a musical term that refers to the simultaneous sound of two or more independent melodies added above or below a given musical phrase. Atta hopes that his finished prints will allow visitors intriguing new ways of seeing and appreciating the African objects in the museum’s collection.