Frederick Ebenezer Okai at Gyamadudu Museum

For the exhibition “Earthy Structures and Contingent Breakthroughs,” artist Frederick Ebenezer Okai draws from the aesthetics, processes, and materiality of Indigenous ceramics to create works that expound on pottery’s use and significance in Ghana. Developed over three years, the terra-cotta sculptures, photography, video, sound, and virtual-reality landscapes on view highlight the artist’s relationship with the Earth as a living entity, focusing on its manifestations in the cultural objects propping up the complex structure of Ghanian society.

In a previous body of work, Okai married pieces of earthenware relics collected from several communities to form a single object; the resulting hybridity counteracted any potentially ethnocentric overtones. For this new series of experimental vessels, the artist spiked his studio ceramic practice with a variety of techniques gleaned from the production of Indigenous pottery, thus giving new life to object histories that have been fragmented by time and space.

Still under construction, Gyamadudu Museum features a beaded-necklace-like structure of nine interlinked domes organized around a central courtyard, an architectural element most often associated with communal homesteads. For this exhibition, each dome contains a single installation. Butterfly I, 2022, suspends one of the Okai’s patchwork vessels within a scaffold of galvanized mesh. Obi Ara Ho Hia I, 2022, populates a similar mesh structure with stoneware, porcelain, and earthenware. The objects spill into the dome and through the window, subtly suggesting the architectural landscapes of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. For the sound installation Untitled, 2022, three censors activate conversations between Okai and expert potters conducted in English, Dagomba, Buli, and Twi dialects. The dialogues reveal the extent to which pottery usage is susceptible to temporality, as well as permanence.

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