Abstract x Ghanaian x Handmade Art Gear
by Sionne Neely | photos by Jane Odartey
This is Part Two of the interview with JANE ODARTEY, creator of MAWUSI, an eclectic collection of abstract wearable Ghanaian art. Jane is also a photographer, writer and model. Jane talks to ACCRA [dot] ALT about finding bliss thru crafting, building community far from home in Queens NY and how using Ghanaian prints proves to be solid as a rock.
For more, check out the ridiculously lovely blog – Jane Through the Seasons.
What do you miss most about Ghana?
The kenke! I almost died because of that. I’m serious. I almost died because of kenke. The people… You know how it is – it’s different. Like right now I’m looking outside…there’s nobody walking around and if you see somebody, they are probably wearing a lot of grays and blacks. It’s New York. If you say hi to people, they look at you like you have two heads. I don’t talk to my neighbor. When I see my neighbor, I pretend I don’t see my neighbor. You don’t do that in Ghana.
What’s the Ghanaian community in Queens like?
A lot of the community is based in church and if you don’t go to church, you really can’t hang out with them. Like my accent, they’re like, “why do you talk like that? You’re Ghanaian, you have to have a proper Ghanaian accent.” The fact that I’m Ghanaian doesn’t define me that way. I know I’m Ghanaian, believe me. I try to ignore a lot of them because I feel like they don’t understand me.
Do you feel estranged from other Ghanaians in your community?
No, I don’t. The reason is that I understand them. I think a lot of us have been brainwashed and it’s going to take time for us to start thinking individually. We have been taught to think a certain way. For instance, you come to Ghana and you’re watching these Ghanaian movies and everybody is trying to be westernized. Like, we have something that these people don’t have and that these people want and unfortunately we don’t know this. We’re trying to be like them.
Somehow I have been lucky to think outside the box and I have been able to see things the way I think they are, which is that we are a beautiful people and we are creative – we have our own culture and intelligence. We really don’t need people telling us that we are Black. And you don’t need to be in Europe or America to be significant. You can be significant where you are and you don’t need to copy these people. You just need to be yourself. That’s what I think we don’t know yet.
So where do you find a community of like-minded people?
I choose to not hang out with people that are doing the things that I do because they tend to talk about the same thing. It seems like it closes you in. We don’t talk about what we do, we just talk about everything. Somehow, indirectly, that makes my work stronger…it’s like by not talking about it, somehow I sit down and I’m not thinking about what other people are doing or what other people are saying about this…I shoot things that are interesting to me. I don’t like to shoot people but textures – maybe the pavement, some window, a plant, and then I come back and I kind of blend them all together and then sometimes I add my own thing. You’re not going to see it because it’s all blended, but I see it – I know what’s in there – and to me that’s exciting. There’s more than what you’re seeing.
Do you experience any friction with your Ghanaian identity?
You have that. It’s in your heart, your head, it’s part of you. You know you have to respect your elders no matter what trash they say. You know that your community is important. You need them to grow so you give them that respect. And you move to a new place and they have a different culture – they look at things differently – but the thing is, you have an identity – you know where you’re coming from. You know your parents, you know your grandparents, you know your great grandparents – you’ve had an African print in your life all this time.
Where do African designers fit in the global fashion matrix?
I’m on Etsy right now and there is something you notice. I’m small because I just started – I’m just trying to get out there. You notice that there are the big Etsy shops that everybody knows about, who get the front pages all the time and who get their shop featured. When you, the small people, you start making something and it’s spotted, they start making it too because they are bigger. People start thinking that you are copying them but it’s the other way around. So somehow, you really have to work harder to say that “I do this better. This is my design.” Actually, that makes me work harder. One thing I do now when I create is to try and make it really difficult. If you’re going to copy me, you’re just going have to sweat for it.
I think what they’re doing is cool, but I think that they are making it into something like a trend. A lot of people, unfortunately, don’t dig in to see the original styles. Everyone is doing African prints this year and maybe next year, they’ll go to China.
I think we can do it, but we will have to work hard. I hope people don’t think African print is the trend of the year and that’s it, but that they dig into it and see where it’s coming from and the people and the culture behind it. I suppose that’s a bit of what I’m trying to do. I don’t just use African print but I tell a story – it has a life of it’s own.
Read Part One of the interview with Jane Odartey here.
Get Print Fresh with Jane | @Mawusiii