To Mother With Love

Africa. That infinite continent of ancient proverbs and philosophies, that continent of a million histories, all interwoven, all deeply meaningful. The mother of powerful minds, spiritual, loving and eternal. .A continent fragmented, broken, stolen, but forever rising. This is what the sculptor (Fowokan) George Kelly embraces, like a loving child embracing his mother. In that moment of embrace, there is a acknowledgement of infinite wisdom, locked in the everlasting warmth of truth and knowledge that is to glow throughout life. He exhibits his work under the name Fowokan, a Yoruba word meaning “one who creates with the hand.”
It takes a powerful mind, and one who takes Art seriously, to have the ability to take on the vast sensibilities of Africa Philosophies, and begin to use them to inform their Art. Fowokan George Kelly is in possession of such a mind. Art - real Art, has never really existed outside human feelings – emotions, reactions and expressions and this has always been evident in ancient sculptures from

Africa. However over the years the ­conception and first impressions of so, called "African Art" are battered objects that have been removed from their initial; context, and have been presented to appear primitive, untutored, heathenish and inferior. Unfortunately most of the African Colonial generation have been brainwashed into believing that their forefathers and the masterful brilliant work they created were nothing more than the products of evil minds. Post colonial experience, brought to light the painful untruths and fragmentation of Africa its histories and people. In rightful attempts to rehabilitate African Culture, a direct imitation of what was done in the past (e.g. the 15th Century Iife heads, Yoruba carvings, Benin bronzes etc.) was demanded of African Artists. Then it took a dive into the "Africa of the here" image. Village scenes; traditional possessions etc. done by artists who often never witnessed either.

This is what was presented to the international forum, all a very meaningful and purposeful act for its time. However what is now witnessed on the international front is a stale stagnation, that has and continues to put African artists in a deep destructive ravine. What is normally produced under the rubric of "African Art' are futile regurgitation of romantic scenes and 15th Century, sculptures mostly done by African artists living outside Africa These works are predominately decorative kitsch done to sell to the European/western market, and easily accepted by many who have not seen enough Art to know better. These are nice enough people, but confused eclectic artists and craftspersons clever with their hands but conceptually naive, who dance into the trap the west has laid for them. Fowokan is one artist, working with this subject matter who has not fallen into that trap.

As one of the foremost modem sculptors working in Britain of African Caribbean origin, Fowokan says, his sculptures deal with the concept of "African thinking,” this is where he is distinguished. To be informed by the concept of African thinking and make it relevant to contemporary society is to tap at vital discourses in Art that pertains particularly to Africa. The ability to do this effectively requires study and understanding, of "principles that are African” made relevant to the artists experiences and observations. This allows the freedom to convey a "message" in whatever form or concept the artist chooses. Fowokan maintains he uses forms and materials within his environment to inform his work "however the intent is the important thing, not the form or the nature of the material". He is one of very few artists working in Britain, who has actually studied African masks, understanding the intent of their execution and paying serious attention to their expression; understanding that there is a profound wealth of knowledge in a mask relevant to its time, and beyond. It is the knowledge of such mastery of expression that Fowokan has put into the faces of his pieces

His Malcolm X portrait is the spiritual expression of a great respect for, and understanding of the man Malcolm X. It is not the usual cliché of X's image, but a looking at the man close up through the various transformations that occurred throughout his life and death. The head itself is slightly turned, not looking at the viewer, as though X is answering to a calling, concentrating on that which beckons beyond the viewer.

The same combination of knowledge and experience is put into "Meditations Beneath Duppycherry Tree." It encompasses fond memories of childhood days, death and transformation. This female form, with its expression of deep eternal understanding, draws the viewer inward, to join meditations on that which is sacred. The word duppy is used to describe a benevolent spirit in Jamaica. This piece also deals with the notion of metamorphosis. Made of iron resin; it was buried in the soil around the time the artist lost his mother. Some six months later it was dug up and had taken on a rusty and aged appearance. For Fowokan "the rust had its own particular quality of life." Apparent here is his belief in the ancient African concept of infinity, where life gives birth life and even death gives birth to life. This same knowledge and belief is evident in "Within the seed infinity, with infinity the seed." A very powerful piece.

Whilst "Meditation Beneath Duppycherry Tree" draws the viewer inward, "With the seed infinity, within infinity the seed," invites the view to look outward at the world around and beyond. The seed symbolic of potential. Within the seed lies infinite possibilities for growth and multiplication, and that seed exists within the infinite universe. The necklace on the figure is also symbolic of the circled universe, that has no beginning, no end," all things are infinite including, man.” This figure is the embodiment of infinite cycles. She is, pregnant, carrying within her the "human seed". Fowokan constantly refers to the female form and image to depict his ideas. He perceives the female as the embodiment of spiritual power, and believes that as the male matures he develops this quality to a greater extent than in his youthful days. Generally he has a point, but I tend to lean more to the view that a lot of young men have this quality but are not allowed to express it.

Fowokan George Kelly's work cannot, and should nor be ignored, for like other serious artists working today their works are important to cultural integrity and contemporary history. He maintains "Africans have a responsibility to define their own reality which is the product of their own psyche however we cant create out of a vacuum. Our definitions in time will produce vast concepts, theories and philosophies." As an artist he has a message to give and thoughts to share otherwise there is point. He says "it is nonsense for an artist to say, I do something I cannot explain, which is `the intuitive, primitive trap many African artists are placed in." Real art does not exist if it is not channeled through the intellect, it is up to us to be informed of the arrests' concepts. Fowokan is saying something through his Art, let us listen carefully. He continues - travel on the road of artistic and philosophical excellence constantly experimenting and finding new forms of expression and like all vital artists committed to art, he is aware that the road never ends.

One has the strong feeling that his later works, especially "Meditation beneath duppy cherry tree" and "Within the se infinity, within infinity the seed", are dedicated to his late: mother, dealing with her loss and his own mortality, re-born in, the deep bond they had. Also dedicated to Mother :Africa, redefining that which has keen taken from him and all Africans, acknowledging her strength and wisdom. His mother and mother Africa blended into one, and to his mothering of knowledge wisdom and Art... with love.

Olasheni Gansallo Jan 1994