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Using her body as a paint brush, Adelaide Damoah tackles a range of themes and explores issues including race, gender, the female body, the male gaze, the symbiosis between art and literature.

ReConnect Africa spoke to the British-Ghanaian artist about her inspiration and her support for other emerging artists in the Diaspora

ReConnect Africa: Your career as an artist was born during a period of convalescence following a life-changing medical diagnosis. Can you tell us a little about the things that you learned and the decisions that you made during this period?

Adelaide Damoah: I had been suffering with chronic lower abdominal pain since my mid teens and was diagnosed with endometriosis right at the start of my career in the pharmaceutical industry. During the time of my convalescence, my company were not paying me, and I had a mortgage. I was in too much pain to go to work, but my mind was very active. Firstly, I quickly learned how to make extra money for myself from home, online and offline. Secondly, I bought a number of books on oil painting and drawing and started to study what had always been my passion - drawing and painting.

Very soon, I learned that people wanted to part with money for my work, so I sold a few pieces to friends and colleagues. This meant a lot to me as it showed me that I could make some kind of living from my passion - something I never thought possible before. Finally, I learned that I could take a lot more pain than I thought I could. I learned that the human body and mind are very resilient. It was during this time, in 2005, that I made the decision to switch careers and become an artist.

ReConnect Africa: How did you make the transition from the pharmaceutical industry to the art world?

Adelaide Damoah: I left my company but continued with freelance work from home. I was doing freelance recruitment and online writing for various websites. This allowed me the freedom to continue to paint at home. I set up a studio in my living room and painted when I was not working. At the same time, I didn't really know anything about the art world, or the business of art, and I had no idea where to start.

Naively, I went to a business conference called “Mind of a Millionaire” at ExCel in East London. I think I was secretly hoping to network with some rich business people in the hope that they would buy work from me! It was a good experience and I did meet some interesting people - including Alexander Amosu and Simon Woodruff of Yo Sushi! I stayed in touch with Simon for a while and he gave me great general business advice.

On the same day, I met a man called Emile. I showed him my portfolio and he insisted that he could get me a show. He was friends with Charlie Allen - the great tailor in Islington - and he convinced Charlie to lend me his beautiful space for my debut solo show. With the help of my youngest sister Edna, we had some good publicity and the show was quite well attended. I didn't look back after that.

“I add in other elements of myself - including family photos that go back to late 1800’s Gold Coast (now Ghana).”

ReConnect Africa: How would you describe your practice?

Adelaide Damoah: Currently, I use my body as the starting point to paint and perform. This involves using my body as a living paint brush - in a similar way to how Yves Klein used female models in his famous 1960 performance Anthropometries of the Blue Epoch. The difference with me is that I am using myself as opposed to other people. This is a direct conversation with Klein in that I feel his performance created a passive female body ripe for objectification by the male gaze.

By being active rather than passive, and using myself, I hope to remove that element. This is the performative side of my practice. In the studio, this is done in private, but in front of a camera. The other side of it is what happens to the work after the body print is made. I add in other elements of myself - including family photos that go back to late 1800’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). I also use found photos from the same period in England. The two elements combined get me thinking about our colonial past and how that past intersects and influences the present.

ReConnect Africa: What is it that you are looking to achieve through your art?

Adelaide Damoah: Freedom and knowledge of the world we live in. Personal expression and the truth of our existence.

ReConnect Africa: Who or what inspires you the most and why?

Adelaide Damoah: Even though I talk about other artists in my work now, my favourite has always been Frida Kahlo. Her ability to express the reality of her existence freely, honestly and sometimes brutally through her work meant that she possessed an authenticity that ultimately made her into an icon.

ReConnect Africa: You are a member of BBFA (Black British Female Artist), a Collective which aims to provide a platform for emerging artists of the Diaspora to showcase their work. How has the Collective influenced your practice and to what extent has it been successful in magnifying the artistic voice of the Diaspora?

Adelaide Damoah: All five members of the Collective have such distinct and unique practices. To date, we have worked independently of each other, so it is difficult to say if or how being in the Collective has influenced my practice.

That being said, we support each other and visit each other’s studios and shows and often critique and advise each other. We have created a wonderful support structure in that sense. Regarding magnifying the voice of the diaspora, it is still early days for us - we have only been in existence since 2015. However, last year, we were able to pull off our first international project in Ghana with the help of the Arts Council of England and several other partners. The project was successful in helping us reach a wider international audience.

ReConnect Africa: You have your own YouTube Channel - Art Discussions with Adelaide Damoah – which you use to interview visual artists with the aim of providing guidance for emerging artists who are struggling to find their feet in the contemporary art world. What was it that prompted you to begin this project?

Adelaide Damoah: Initially, my reason was more selfish than altruistic - it was my own journey and struggle to find my feet! I naturally started talking to other artists quite early in my journey. I made friends with artists like Larry Acheampong, Kimathi Donkor and Edward Ofosu. I was always asking questions and was hungry to learn. I did not go to art school and had never had a critique or any formal instruction regarding my work or navigating the art world. In 2011, I fell sick again so could not network as much, but wanted to remain active and keep learning.

I decided to formalise an interview structure to find out how artists managed to survive and develop their careers. Initially, I conducted the interviews over Skype and recorded the audio. I then transcribed the audio and published the interviews on my blog. I wanted to put a positive spin on it, so I called it Art Success. Later, in 2016, my friend and mentor Simon Frederick advised me to change the name and we came up with Art Discussions.

Art Discussions: http://www.youtube.com/user/adelaidesart

ReConnect Africa: Of all the artists who you have interviewed, is there one in particular whose advice stands out as being particularly pertinent?

Adelaide Damoah: Every person I have interviewed has something inspiring to say so it is difficult to isolate one person. I would say that the majority of artists I interview always come to the same conclusion which is: keep working and keep showing your work. Never, ever give up.

“The majority of artists I interview always come to the same conclusion which is: keep working and keep showing your work. Never, ever give up.”

ReConnect Africa: What have you got lined up for 2018?

Adelaide Damoah: In late February 2018, I will be taking part in a residency in Morocco with my friend and BBFA Collective sister Ayesha Feisal. It is called Off the Tracks and it is run by an organisation called Little Africa. It runs over the same long weekend as 154 Art Fair which is launching for the first time in Marrakesh. The BBFA Collective will be having its first group show towards the summer. I am working towards a solo show in October of this year with MTArt and Predella House.

To find out more about Adelaide, please visit http://adelaidedamoahart.com/

Connect with Adelaide on (FB) https://www.facebook.com/AdelaideDamoahArtist/ | (TW) https://twitter.com/AdelaideDamoah | (IN) https://www.instagram.com/adelaidedamoah/

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