By Annan Affotey
Curated by Tina Tangalakis
Champions is Amar Singh Gallery’s first exhibition with artist Annan Affotey. Born and raised in Accra, Ghana, Annan navigates black identity through portraiture. His paintings focus on women and men of color with vibrant dark skin and soul filled eyes. He surrounds his figures in negative space allowing each subject to tell their own story. Annan’s paintings highlight the nuances of the facial expression and examine a story that goes beyond surface level.
The idea that each individual has a unique, unseen story is a recurring theme in Annan’s work. For Women’s History Month, Annan pays tribute to the women in his life through this exhibition. Influenced by his mother, sisters and a former schoolmate, Champions explores the undiscovered stories of women who have inspired him.
Annan’s work has previously been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York City, Miami and Accra. This marks his first solo online exhibition.
Momo is my elder sister. She and I became close after my father passed away. At a young age she took on the responsibility of helping my mother care for me and my siblings. It is for this reason that she is my Champion. Always independent, she has a talent for braiding hair. It is through my experiences with her at the salon that I was first introduced to an uninhibited side of women that men in Ghana don’t often see. As a young boy she would let me accompany her to the salon. There I would hear women sharing stories, laughter and tears. I was so inspired by what I saw that many of my early paintings were influenced by the women she worked with. For Momo’s portrait I used shades of pink, her favorite color.
My younger sister is my Champion. Together we have faced and overcome hardships in a way that only siblings can. In 2010, our family home was demolished by the local government. Given only a few minutes’ notice, my sister ran into our house and saved all of my artworks from being destroyed. Thankfully, it was through the sale of these recovered artworks that I was able to rebuild our life. Although we have faced some of life’s toughest challenges together, we always find time to laugh. We grew up during a time with no cell phones so practical jokes are an important part of our relationship. My Champion Tsotso reminds me to be playful. Tsotso is a woman with big dreams, which is why I painted her in tones of blue like the sky.
When it comes to Champions, Adjovi is my biggest inspiration; she is my mother. As a young woman in Accra, she was left to raise nine children after my father unexpectedly passed away. My mother embodies strength, wisdom and compassion. It is through her that I learned to appreciate women and the female spirit. Throughout my life she is the one I would turn to for advice. Although she is my Champion, I look forward to the day when I can become hers and show her the same unconditional strength and support that she has given to me. For her portrait, I choose to paint her in shades of green. This color symbolizes compassion, comfort and generosity, all traits that exemplify this extraordinary woman.
Daisy and I met at Ghanatta College of Art and Design. We were best friends and would do everything together: life drawing, painting, homework. She inspired me to be a better artist. Ghanatta College was known for having few but talented women students, many who were more skilled than their male counterparts. However, in Ghana is it common for women to give up their careers due to societal expectations and lack of resources. This portrait of Daisy is a tribute to women who are unable to achieve their dreams due to circumstances beyond their control. I have painted Daisy in hues of purple and have her looking upward to the sky, dreaming of a world that could have been.
When I think of Amanda Gorman I think of hope. This young woman represents a new day filled with opportunity, ambition and dignity for all black women. Amanda uses her art to shine a light on issues of oppression, race, feminism and the African diaspora. When I reflect on Amanda, I cannot help but consider my own sisters and the adversity they have faced. Although they have turned their hardships into opportunities, I wonder if their lives would be different had they been born into different circumstances. These thoughts make me realize that I am surrounded by women Champions everywhere. Amanda’s portrait is painted in yellow tones to symbolize optimism, intellect and clarity.
Cicely Tyson is the embodiment of a Champion fully realized. Ms. Tyson rose from humble beginnings and became a pioneer in the arts. Her career defied the stereotypical roles that were afforded to black women actresses at the time. She refused to take on projects that were demeaning to black women and led by example through her daily life. In addition to her craft, Ms. Tyson dedicated decades to civil rights and community building. It is for these reasons that I dedicate this work in her honor, a true Champion. I have adorned Ms. Tyson’s head with a red scarf to represent her courage, power and passion.