adelaide damoah,  deconstruction,  edward ofosu,  NFT,  Queen Elizabeth II

Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Edward Ofosu.

I have known Edward Ofosu for a few years now. I was even privileged enough to exhibit with him once in a group show. I can go as far as to boast that he bought one of my paintings once. Ofosu, born in 1973 told me that he knew from as early as eight years old that one day, he was going to be a painter. Having completed his secondary education in the 90’s, in Ghana, Ofosu found himself still longing to paint worked long hours in a poultry farm doing finance, while at the same time studying under the tutelage of a local artist who encouraged his natural talent. In 2009, a portrait Ofosu did of his mother caught the attention of a magazine. This gave him the confidence to continue to pursue his dream while working many different jobs to pay the bills including cleaning, construction and care work. At one stage, things started to close in on him as he lost his job and had visa issues. Eternally optimistic, Ofosu told me that it was at this stage that he realised that all of these things had to happen in order for him to establish himself on his journey to becoming a professional artist. Now he is one of the most prolific artists that I know painting every single day. In his own words,
Through all of these things, I am on fire now!”
Adelaide Damoah (AD): Are you continuing to work to support your art?
Edward Ofosu (EO): I once did a portrait for a friend of mine. It was of his wife. He showed the painting to his friend who was the head master of a school in Norwood, London- for kids who have been excluded from other schools. The man asked if I could teach the kids in his school. So for two hours every Tuesday, I teach the kids art. That job has been sustaining me. It has allowed me to buy all of the art materials that I need to continue my practice. Now the energy and the paintings are just getting bigger! I feel like I am home now. Now I feel like I am open to this process to continue forever. I am not going to stand in the way of the process because once I do that, I am killing myself. People always ask me how I am surviving, but somehow, I am surviving and amazing things are beginning to happen.
AD: Apart from working on Tuesday’s, you paint the rest of the time?
EO: I paint every day. Morning and evening.
AD: That’s amazing Edward. I remember us exhibiting together in Ladbrook Grove and I know that since then, you have been involved in a number of group shows. Have you had any solo shows since?
EO: Yes, two solo shows.
AD: Did you sell any work?
EO: The first one, I sold one. The second show, I didn’t sell any, but most of those pieces have been sold now.

AD: The art world as you know is run by upper middle class white men for the most part. Naturally, this means that they will have their own leanings in terms of what they deem as important to promote. There are very few black artists who have been accepted so to speak by the art establishment. With that in mind, what is your definition of success?
EO: My definition of success is when you are enjoying what you are doing. When the fulfilment of what you are doing is in the future, then you are not successful. The reason is that unless that future comes, you are not going to be fulfilled. Therefore, when your fulfilment is in what you are doing now, then the future, whatever form it takes, does not really make you or break you. In terms of society, if you then become famous, that is a by product. My work will suffer if my fulfilment is in the future. If that is my focus, I can not be totally what I do because my totality is based on my idea of having success that may come tomorrow. If my fulfilment and success is in what I am doing, then I am total. I am fulfilled. This idea of success that we learn from society and from schools for instance, all those things are things of the past! As you learn something, that thing becomes the past. If you want to be accepted by a society who just lives in the past, then you have to be like them to be accepted. If you want mad people to accept you, then you have to be mad! If I look around our society, all that I see is politicians misleading people. Lots of people are running around trying to do jobs and they are frustrated. We see something wrong and we all follow blindly. Even the education system does not allow us to unfold the deeper dimensions within ourselves. All that the education system does is to allow us to swallow lots of information and just vomit it out without even digesting it because if you digest the information properly, you can not vomit out the same information. I remember a few years ago, I did a painting called Brainwash Education. At the time, I knew of may people who were taking examinations. While some people were writing happily, others were stuck and were unable to get the right information out. Why? In my opinion because the system just helps you to be a photocopier. Yet still, within us is everything. Within us is totality. The whole of life is within us. What I mean by that is that my body can become sick and break down. The same body can be completely healthy and fit. The whole of life exists in every person, so if that totality is not being expressed, then that human being is effectively half of himself. This is why there is so much stress and stress related illnesses. People are looking for something to make them feel whole. These are the things that no body will tell you. They would rather condition you to think in a certain way. With children, it starts young, by the time they are six, they have already been programmed to be a certain way. Some kids have talent and think in a different way, and as a result, get told they are disrespectful or are dismissed from school. These are some of the children that I teach. They have something, they have passion and they are unique. Every body is unique. If you want to put everybody in the same box, it can not work. There is a lack of freedom to express our uniqueness.
AD: By your definition of success, do you consider yourself to be successful?
EO: By my definition, I consider myself to be successful because of where I am. I am doing my work and I am enjoying it. I am totally in the work. I don’t even consider myself to be a person! I consider myself to be like a bamboo tree. Or, like a flute! You know, once you surrender to this life, life takes care of itself. It knows what to do with the apple tree, it knows what to do with the banana plant, it knows what to do with the elephant. It is only humans who try to find out what to do with themselves. Once you surrender to life, somehow, life is much more sophisticated than you! Life can take care of you. Those who surrender to life, become life, become the totality. The totality begins to shine through that person. For me, because I have surrendered to the process, I consider myself successful. If I were not to surrender, I would be a struggling artist, even if the world made me famous and gave me lots of money. Why? Because my art would not be authentic, it would not have that power of the whole. It would just be empty from my point of view. It would be without a soul. When you are total, then you know that you are successful.

AD: Good answer Edward… Going back to what I was saying about the art world being run by the upper middle classes and us as minorities having difficulties in penetrating that world, is that something that concerns you in your practice?
EO: In the past I saw that. We would talk about art and galleries in London and potential spaces for African artists. But now, I realise that nothing can stop light from shining. I remember one day, I walked past this pond. There were about 20 small trees in the middle of this pond. Then the sun started shining and all of a sudden, all the trees had light on them. You see, light can not be stopped. So when you are shining your light, no one can stop your light from shining. That is why Van Gogh is still considered great today. Even though society may not have given him all of the awards and fame. When you shine a light, it will have an effect on anything that it comes into contact with. Therefore, the idea that someone is stopping you from shining, is the idea that stops you from shining! When you know that everything is within you, then you know that you are the limit of yourself! Whatever you see, is the reality. If you know that you are limitless, then you will rather surrender to the process than go in whatever direction. It might be that you produce some work that helps six people to heal, or it could be channelled toward something else. It does not have to be through galleries. You can share you work with people and they will be uplifted. In that way, your work could still transform the life of some people while ignoring the media. Nothing can stop the light from shining. Darkness exists but when the light shines, it disappears.
AD: What is your ultimate dream for your art?
EO: My ultimate dream is to use my work as a catalyst to help people to get in touch with themselves. When you are not in touch with yourself, you can not be yourself! When you are in touch with yourself, you be yourself and that is where you find fulfilment. I want to use my work to challenge people, to bring out messages and words. I want to make provoking statements through my work that will make people ask questions that will make people find out that they are not who they say they are! For instance, we all have this idea that we are this or that. Are you really that? Because it is the information that makes you what you are. What is it that makes you Adelaide? Your mum could have called you Joanna or Lucy or Mary! Let us check out whether we are this information. If you are the information, then what is it that is within you that is aware of the information? Your age, your country, your date of birth… What is it in you that is aware of the information? Where you not there before the name Adelaide came to your memory?
AD: Now we are getting into the realm of philosophy and the sense of self called qualia!
EO: Well, that is what I am trying to do through my work, to make people get in touch with themselves. Come back home and define something that they can define for themselves.
20 x 16 inches
oil on canvas
AD: How do you think this can manifest through your work? Do you think it is possible for that to happen through people looking at paintings?
EO: The first awareness came to me in 2010 when I did my first solo show. I did it in a church. A woman came to the exhibition with her children. The woman came to me and told me that she looked at one of my paintings and something hit her really hard and she was taken aback. She was expressing a feeling that she had when she looked at the painting. When she said that, I realised that it was possible to use the work as a trigger of transformation. Therefore, if I become this transformation, then whatever I touch is being transformed. If I am sick, whatever I do will be full of sickness. If I am empowered, if I am aware, then whatever I touch will be a reflection of that state of being that I already am. The more I experience, the more I can transform through my work. When people look at my work and say wow, you paint from the soul, that is because there is a soul there. You can’t say you see a soul when there is nothing but emptiness. Some of the titles can get people thinking as well. I think I have about five paintings with the title “Who am I?” I have a title about religion which says something like “It is that block called religion that stops you from becoming religious.” Once you become something, then you are nothing. But once you are nothing… For instance, once you are a Christian, automatically, you become against Muslims. Automatically, you have to be against the others because you are this thing. If I am nothing, then I can not be against anyone.
What advice would you give to a young man who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
EO: My advice would be that everything is inside you. Call forth that which you want to call forth from within because it is all there. There is a choice to depend upon yourself or to depend upon that which is everything. When you are depending on yourself, then you lose touch with everything. When you lose yourself and surrender to that everything which is within you, then you have got everything and you become everything. Then, you have the whole. When you become you, then you block yourself experiencing everything. Then you become this individual trying to survive, you meet with frustration when people don’t buy your work. When you lose yourself in everything, you are so fulfilled and there is this fire burning inside. At that point, the fulfilment can not be put into words. It will be shown through the words that you speak, your actions and the work that you produce. People will be touched in so many ways. The person who is there, becomes the block to experience the all and the person who surrenders to himself disappears, but then he experiences the all. Don’t think “how am I going to survive.” How can you know how when you do not know tomorrow? That is a fact. Don’t pretend that you know, just accept the fact that you do not know, because you can never know. Because you don’ know, you just have to trust and keep believing in what you have and that trust will begin to take care of you. Maybe in the next 20 years, you will have some good money coming into your account. Maybe it will never happen. When you are really putting your totality in and you know you are on a mission, you know you are fulfilling it and you are complete. Then, even in 1000 years, after you are dead and gone, your work could still be touching people, just like Bob Marley’s music still uplifts people every day even though he has been gone for so many years. The person who looks away from his soul and tries to fulfil himself with other things will never be fulfilled because those things will always leave you empty in the end.
20×24 inches
oil on canvas
Edward Ofosu
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An abridged version of this interview will be published in the May edition of Lime Magazine online and in hard copy with thanks to editor Vernia Mengot and Mark M. Whelan
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