February 10, 2021
Black Identity and Power: Emmanuel Taku’s Mixed Media Portraiture
As the inaugural participant in Noldor, Ghana’s first independent art residency program, the local artist has drawn an international spotlight to his first solo exhibition, Temple of Blackness – It Takes Two.
A graduate in Visual Arts and Textiles from the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, Taku spent several years as a figurative drawing teacher while developing his independent style. In his original works, Taku uses a ilk-screening method to mix acrylics, textiles, and newspapers into surrealist portraits that celebrate the subjects’ power and energy. He uses a variety of materials for backgrounds in different pieces – from canvas to fibre net and plywood – that are usually washed into a single colour in order to accentuate and isolate the intricately-made figures.
I don’t see my paintings as mere decorative pieces but the experiences and energies around me given flesh.
Taku is part of a growing Ghanian subculture of artists being encouraged to flourish by contemporary African art specialist Joseph Awuah-Darko’s new Noldor residency. Focused on artists like Taku who are technically trained but have limited access to resources and time, the annual program gives one artist four weeks to further hone their creative practice in both a dedicated studio space and a secluded retreat. By providing access to artistic resources as well as connections to the global contemporary art world, this life-changing opportunity allowed Taku to produce ten new artworks that featured in his first solo exhibition, Temple of Blackness – It Takes Two, which exhibited late last year at Noldor’s studio space in Accra, Ghana.
The works in the new collection reflect a Black narrative and identity using the distinct method of painting and printing Taku has been developing for a decade. Inspired by British-Ghanian artist John Akomfrah’s description of traditional museums as ‘Temples of Whiteness’, Taku’s portraits depict his Black subjects as ethereal heroes, using abstract but recognisably human forms to endow the figures with a supernatural essence. Each portrait consists of a matching pair of people, two individuals who nonetheless share a unified energy that mixes their senses of self together. In this ‘Temple of Blackness’, Taku seeks to reclaim the objectification of Black bodies so he can, in his own words, ‘affirm a shared, universal and strong Black identity’.
These powerful portraits of strength and identity are signifiers of Taku’s own talent and hard work, as well as the importance of supporting artists whose creativity is limited only by their circumstances. Although his premiere exhibit is now over, you can follow Taku’s growing career as an international artist on his Instagram @emmanuel_scarf, or keep an eye out for the 2021 recipient of the Noldor residency here.
If you liked this article, you’ll also love our feature on the Nigeria-born artist Eniwaye Oluwaseyi’s impressionistic realism portraiture, also exhibited in Accra in 2020.