“Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king…in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
-Yaa Asantewaa, 1900
‘Yaa’ centres around the spirit of Ghanaian Ashanti Warrior Yaa Asantewaa. In 1900, Asantewaa (1840 – 17 October 1921) led the Ashanti rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool against British colonialism. The British governor demanded that the Asante tribe hand over the golden stool to the British government, i.e. their royal throne and a symbol of Asante sovereignty.
Asantewaa is a symbol of pride, tenacity and defiance and by evoking her figure in a series of staged self-portraits, I wanted to embody those characteristics whilst exploring cultural spaces which I personally find particularly violent.
In my experience, certain environments in which exclusion, exclusivity and empire – what I collectively refer to as the “three e’s” merge, have been the most isolating and oppressive to people of colour. As a black British artist, these encounters often taken place within western cultural & educational institutions, and add to a debilitating sense of isolation and non-belonging.
The project is also inspired by a study by Cambridge University in 2012 which found that people of black African heritage who did not live in close residential proximity with other Black Africans increased their risk of developing psychological dysfunction .
Considering these two position in relation to politics of this made me question what it means people of colour to navigate and/or to function within spaces that historically exclude people who look like you. Are members of the African diaspora less likely to thrive in areas where they are not visible? How might this manifest in ‘spaces of high culture’? Are these often fragmented spaces a breeding ground for trauma?
There is an old fable that monsters do not have reflections in the mirror. As I enter these spaces of culture and art I rarely see a reflection of myself on the gallery walls, nor in the make-up of the gallery staff… This lack or invisibility perpetuates the idea of low self worth, and negates our significance and contribution to any narratives of importance. This project aims to illustrate the guise one must inhabit as black creatives within these Eurocentric spaces whilst attempting to make visible the often invisible violence that takes place within environments that form around the “Three E’s". I do not wish the project to indulge in the spectacle of black pain but to explore how hypervisibility can be a form of resistance and therefore reclamation.
The project was commissioned by Tate and is part of But We Are Still Here in collaboration with Tate exchange which took place in November 2017.