SHANI CRAWFORD SPEAKS OF

GROWING UP/LIVING IN THE HOUSE THAT ART BUILT.

 


I met Fowokan when I was about three years old; me, a rather precautious child and
him, a bearded man in a sheepskin jacket. 
Nearly 30 years on, his beard is a little greyer but my precautious
nature remains intact, he is my stepfather.

My stepfather to most is a great artist with a formidable knowledge and mind of
creativity.  And though I see all these
things, beyond our personal relationship I will always herald him as a great
teacher in my life, that’s what make MY relationship with Fowokan so special. 

I have learnt the history of his work, his methods and have been fortunate to

gain an insight into into the processes
behind his work from listening to conversations around the dinner table. 

I have travelled through Africa, Europe and
the Caribbean with him and my mother and have shared in some of the scenes that
have inspired him.   And although I have
never recognised myself as an artistic person, art has been and remains an
integral part of my life.  I’m sure to
some this may sound like a cliché but art is everywhere in my home, it truly
is.

 

 

 

Someone once
visited my house and asked me if THEY scared me?  Who scared me I asked??

The sculptures!!  It felt like such a ridiculous question.  As I have lived
surrounded by art my entire life and the pieces have been my friends, hiding
places and sometimes objects of embarrassment. 
Throughout my teenage years I was fearful of friends coming to my house
and seeing how ‘black’ it was and that my parties would always be hampered by
the fear of damaging a piece of art.



BUT

 

To live in a house surrounded by art, you can’t, not be inspired. 

I think that this is a gift and at the same time a curse.  That whilst sat underneath the watching eyes of "Meditations Beneath Duppycherry Tree", there is an immense pressure to create but faced with this quality of work, one is never really sure what to do.  On the other hand, there is this constant food for the imagination in so many ways.  I remember asking my mother to mimic the same hair styles as one of the sculptures.  Or in my own efforts to be creative my first blog post was about the art in my family home.


A digitally manipulated image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love these sculptures for so many reasons.  In writing about Fowokan’s work and my own relationship to it, I have had to look back on what has been a life living in a house with many beautiful and precious objects.  But what I see is not simply the various stages of my own upbringing enshrined in these pieces but a significant segment of the career of a continuously evolving artist.  I have seen the development and rejection of patterns and trends in the growth of his work and life as an artist; from his jewellery and masks making, to the sculptures of well known Black people in our community; his essay and poetry writing, to his more recent engagement with the camcorder and the digital camera.  The latter being something that I was initially unsure about, being an occasional troglodyte, I was not quite sure how I felt about the digital reworking of images of his work.  But I am amazed by, not just how different from the original the digitally manipulated images can be but how differently you the viewer see them.

This piece is called IPONRI, and Fowokan describes it as representing Higher Consciousness.

 

 

 

I have been asked to discuss my favourite piece and after more that 20 years of living with
Fowokan’s work, I don’t really think I have one.  Each piece of sculpture has its historical,
social and political relevance.  Just as I love the bust of Malcolm X, as a representation of a power, as well as the strength and awesomeness that the piece exudes, I love equally, Property of a Gentleman because of its blatancy, its obvious representation of slavery but with something in his stance that manages to exude an element of power that transcends his situation as someone in chains.  Twenty Guineas, which was a collection of masks that were shown at The Studio Museum Harlem New York, in 1996, is really significant to me because it includes a mask taken from my own face.  

 

 

 

 

 



Meditation Beneath Duppycherry Tree has always stood looking over my family in
our living room, as this [looming] being. I love her texture and have often found myself tracing my hands over her rusted metallic surface.  The fact that part of this piece laid buried in our garden for some time and it was the same soil on which I played so often, that helped create the textured effect makes it so much more valuable to me. But then, there are pieces that use colour to create a desired effect, and at the risk of sounding ‘simple’ ‘catch your eyes’
and draw you in; one such piece is Brixton Skank.  This piece brings back perfect memories of my childhood.  I loved her so much; her stance that I often mimicked and the rough edges of her
hair.  I used to touch this piece often when I saw it, and I still do, it is almost as though she is asking me to.  I love how the piece is literally a motion caught still for a spilt second, and the expression on her face so calm, as though caught up in the rhythm.   And then there is A Caribbean Blue, which I think is simply beautiful.  For me it is a fantastic aquamarine colour that I can still imagine, as the piece is no longer in our possession; I can close my eyes now and describe her perfectly to you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legba Stands at the Crossroads is one of my favourite pieces from my childhood
that I am still very much in love with and one that I haven’t seen for about 15 years. 

When I hink of Fowokan’s early work, the image of this piece is always the first that comes to mind.  It reminds me of being a very small girl seeing his work for the first and being quite curious about the intricate details used in the colouring and the vibrancy of it.  I even tried to count how many colours and patterns I could see....all I could do was wonder how he did it and how long did it take?  And though I have not seen it for many years my memory of it still evokes feelings of the same child- like marvel.  I think that this piece has always remained precious to me because my love of it is somewhat exclusive.  The thought that not many people have seen it allows me to feel safe in the knowledge that perhaps I alone really loved it and it was mine; that I am still that small person only a couple feet tall running my small hands over its contours. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, much has changed.  These days I no longer wonder about his methods or the length of time invested in each piece.  I have an understanding of the details now but I am still awestruck by his ability to produce such works of beauty and suspect that I will always feel this way. And now in my twenties, faced with what is Fowokan’s legacy, I am very much aware of the need to leave some kind of positive indelible mark of my own existence on Earth.



Shani Crawford.

March 2012