Kofi Note – aka K.Note – is offering Ghana a taste of a new kind of pop art. The artist clearly intends on pushing boundaries, calling himself a free thinker. “I like to think of myself as a radical person, breaking away from the accepted ways of doing things when I feel it’s necessary,” he shares. Indeed this line of thinking shows through in his work, with the typically bright colours one would associate with pop art filling Kofi’s imaginative designs, a style he refers to as avant-garde and sarcastic. “Sometimes”, he says, “I just throw stuff at a canvas.”
Born and raised in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, Kofi notices that viewers of his work are often surprised by his origins. He offers a sheltered life as excuse for any non-Siano [slang to describe people from Kumasi] qualities he might exhibit. Kofi’s primary medium is the digital canvas providing a dynamic and virtually unrestricted way to create. He exhibits a forceful, positive attitude, discussing, without complaint, the financial limits creators like him experience in Ghana’s volatile market.
The conceptual process of his artwork, however, Kofi describes is heavily built upon emotion and not of the naturally optimistic kind. “I use a lot of bright colours – but the primary emotions that inspire the concepts behind most of my work – are sadness, anger, and loneliness”. He explains, “What I express when I draw or paint are all the things that being human is about – what I can’t help but feel yet don’t want to feel. Simply put, it’s a release.” However he feels that this is slightly at odds with his desire to be a positive force in the world, and so, is quick to add that not everything is a doleful display of the human condition: “I have my bright, happy moments, too, and those are are usually where my favourite pieces come from.”
The inspiration behind his creations can come from anywhere. “Pretty much every idea can become the underlying theme in a project – a conversation, a short novel I read in the morning, even conspiracy theories”, he reveals. A notable piece displayed on Instagram, entitled, “MK Woboa”, was born out of Kofi’s musings on MK Ultra – the code name given to an illegal program of experiments on human subjects, designed by the CIA. “The whole project ended up in a big fiasco, and I though ‘you lot think you can just put remote receivers in our head?’”, muses Kofi. Using elements from digital pop culture, video games, and television shows, he creates new pieces.
Still a student – studying Computer Science at Kumasi Polytechnic – Kofi’s current challenge is drawing daily – a practice he he documents online as a way to refine his art. “I admit, I’ve been skipping days,” he confesses, “But I’ve really improved on my technique. I’m even close to creating a few styles that I can proudly say are uniquely mine.”
Kofi calls himself an artist in more ways than one, a reference to his forays into the world of music. He started experimenting in the visual arts from an early age, but from the age of eight began to feel the call of writing. What started out as a desire to pen novels or poetry morphed over time into songwriting, coinciding with a growing love for music. The results are freely available online. On balancing graphic design and music, Kofi says: “They are connected, they feed into each other. Sometimes a song needs some form of visual representation or symbol to help the listener grasp the idea the musician is trying to express.”
Kofi isn’t particularly complimentary of today’s Ghanaian music scene, pointing to the past as an example of Ghanaian music done better. “I don’t want to sound like a disgruntled golden ager, but older Ghanaian music is way better compared to what we have today,” he states. “There’s too much attention being given to what sells instead of what’s good. You get a really nice, wavy highlife or soul song with A1 vocals, and barely anyone appreciates that. We’d rather go for what we can dance to.” The latter style of music, Kofi believes, is “put together very hastily with little attention paid to content or delivery.” He describes the formulaic approach characteristic of many contemporary musical offerings: “someone goes big with Afropop, so everyone makes a similar Afropop song with pretty much the same instrumental just for the sales or to get put on shows.”
If such attitudes seem generalized, Kofi is quick to point out exceptions. “There are some very excellent artists breaking through the money grabbing haze, but going against the grain is a struggle here.” He laments on talented musicians with less resources: “the music industry doesn’t care. DJs won’t play the songs because they don’t get enough attention. The promoters and music bloggers barely give any attention to artists on the come up because ready made musicians will draw more people to events or help them gain more clicks. The good stuff doesn’t reach Ghanaian audiences so they keep getting saturated with the same repetitive tripe, making them a lot less sensitive to authentic music. It becomes a cycle.”
Kofi also acknowledges the challenges that entering an artistic career can pose. “Art appreciation isn’t really part of the average Ghanaian’s interest, and those that like what we make think of it as something that anyone can do or a talent bestowed by their various deities,” he muses. “This makes it really hard to convince people to pay well for something that they have little understanding about. Or some people feel you’re required, based on religion, to give out your art for free.”
This clearly irks Kofi, and he points out the many reasons why payment is a necessary part of artistic exchange. “It’s absolutely necessary that we get paid for our work,” he stresses. “A lot of effort and resources are put into each project, so if the artist can’t get a little something to put back into his or her career, there’s going to be very little chance of improvement.” There are alternatives, though, that he recognizes: “If you can branch out and apply your skills in more practical fields like website design, advertisement and business branding, things start looking up. Those jobs have very lucrative markets.”
Kofi is optimistic about the future of art in Ghana. “I do think the situation is improving, though,” he adds. “I recently heard of a few small art galleries opening in Accra, the CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival has been a blessing to all art lovers in Ghana, and there was recently a modern art exhibition in Adum [the if you love me… exhibition at the Loco Shed, Kumasi Railway]. That’s a big deal, because it’s in Kumasi. It’s not every day we stop mixing up Ls and Rs [Kumasi folk often get teased for mispronouncing English words] to pay attention to things like art.”
Story by Liza Tait-Bailey