Interview with Annie-Marie Akussah: Winner of the MiAL Cass Art Materials Bursary 2017

by Cass Art Staff

This year, we’re delighted to be supporting Made in Arts London (MiAL), a professional development initiative organised by University of the Arts London, by awarding a £500 Cass Art Materials Bursary Award. We caught up with the winner of this award, Annie-Marie Akussah, asking her about her artistic inspirations and what she plans to do with the bursary.

Hi Annie-Marie, congratulations on winning the MiAL £500 Cass Art Materials Bursary! Do you have any ideas what you’ll do with the prize?

Thank you very much! Yes, as part of my practice I will be going to run an art workshop with a community of albinos in Ukerewe Island in Tanzania. A very important part of my practice is activism and ensuring that I engage with the group of people I make work about, which is predominantly marginalized groups. The workshop will be centered around painting and collage while discussing the notion of belonging, the materiality of objects, identity and language. I am hoping my participants will enjoy the process of making art and give them new ways of thinking about materials. I’m very happy that ‘Albino, After Eric Nehr’ won the bursary, it makes it more meaningful because the bursary will be used to purchase the materials for the workshop. I will also use the bursary to purchase materials and mediums to continue making work and develop my practice.

You’re part of Made in Arts London, an initiative started by the University of the Arts London. Can you tell us a bit about MiAL’s background and the ways in which it’s supported you?

MiAL is a non-profit organization that supports art and design students in several aspects of their practice. Aside from exposing my work online and promoting my practice, being a part of MiAL has taught me how to price my work and present my work professionally. It has given me opportunities to show my work in the Affordable Art Fair. MiAL also participates in programs throughout the year. They share opportunities available such as commissions and open calls for artists.

Your paintings are exquisite! Can you tell us more about the concept behind them?

Thank you very much! ‘Albino, after Eric Nehr’ which was painted from Eric Nehr’s photograph sought to explore colour while highlighting the continuous ritualistic violence and killings of Albinos in Tanzania and other parts of Eastern Africa. It is about the journey to find the colour of their skin tone. In fact, there isn’t a particular colour. Red and Green will make an ordinary skin tone for an average brown skinned person. It took me over three shades to paint him with a set of primary colours. I intended to create a moment where the audience steps closer to appreciate colour, and to address the discrimination caused by the skin they possess. Josephat Tornet, an albino activist and campaigner did his best to spread awareness of the crisis and plea to his people to cherish the lives of albinos. Surely that isn’t enough, we individually need to become lighthouses and spread the awareness. They are human beings, so the law should ensure that they are protected against these petty superstitions. In Ghana, the local name for an albino is ‘’Ofiri Jato’’ or ‘’Obroni P3t3’’. ‘’P3t3’’ means vulture; referring to a rubbish dump. It is through art that we can bring light and tell the stories of these marginalized groups of people. Nina Simone once said 'an artist’s duty as far as I am concerned, is to reflect the times, I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poet’s, musicians'. That to me is my duty, I choose to reflect the times and the situations within the world.

You’re currently studying for a BA in Painting at Wimbledon College of Arts. What’s it like to be a student there?

Yes, I am. Being at Wimbledon is fun! It feels like I am in a college, as opposed to a big university. Since the college is quite small, tutors really get to know you and your practice and are able to support you appropriately. Every students work is different, and inspiring. I really enjoy being in the studio making because the studios have a great energy, and studio mates you can talk to. We engage in different workshops and lectures that help us really develop our contextual practice thoroughly. I’m glad I chose to study at Wimbledon.

Who are your inspirations for your artistic practice?

A lot of people inspire my artistic practice; not just painters or artists, but musicians, poets, politicians, writers, film makers, people that are not even in the creative industry, people who I meet in the community, people whose stories inspire me, especially marginalised groups. Some of the artist that inspire my practice are Fela Kuti, Richard Mosse, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Kehinde Wiley, Susan Sontag, Barby Asante, Yinka Shonibare, Ed Kashi , Robert Rauschenberg, Solomon Adufah, Lubaina Himid, Ibrahim Mahama, Kimathi Donkor, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Atta Aidoo and so many other people!

Do you have any plans for your next art project? Are there any mediums you would like to try out?

Yes, I have a number of projects I intend to embark on or at least start with this summer. The first one is the workshop in Tanzania this month; where I will be working with an albino community to make paintings and collages which will form part of the work I will make when I return to the studio. I have recently started working with screen printing in my series of paintings that question the notion of belonging and migration. I am interested to see the limits and potential of acrylic and other printing mediums. I am also really eager to incorporate chalk and pastel as well within my work.   

Image credits:

Lead image: Annie-Marie Akussah – Albino, After Eric Nehr

Image 2: Annie-Marie Akussah – Uniforms of Royal Blue and Saffron Shagaiyahs Grandmother

Image 3: Annie-Marie Akussah - Spaces

Image 4: Annie-Marie Akussah – Scars at 15, after Ed Kahshi

Image 5: Annie-Marie Akussah - Feranmi

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