Priscilla Kennedy & Ernst Wagner

Studio of Priscilla Kennedy in Kumasi, Ghana, November 2021, digital photomontage

Connecting dots

In November 2021, a German delegation of the Exploring Visual Cultures project (EVC) visited the art department of Kumasi University in Ghana. This is a central hub for artists from West Africa who successfully participate in the global art scene. Ibrahim Mahama is a good example of this. The visit also included a tour of the annual exhibition of students there, as well as visits to individual studios, including Priscilla Kennedy's workplace, presented below. The studio is housed in a series of other individual studios in a flat building on the campus of KNUST University.


The photograph of the studio presented here is a digital montage of three frontal wall views (see the series of small images below). They were taken after the visit for publication on the EVC website and provided by the artist. In the combination, the side walls were distorted to give the impression of seeing the room after entering it with a view of the opposite window wall. The back wall with door, which was not included in the illustration, can be seen in the right-hand illustration (see below). This form was chosen together with the curator and the artist from a number of alternatives (parallel perspective, 3-D models).


gh pk studio walls


In November 2021, the artist had specially redesigned her studio for the exhibition visitors in order to present the current facets of her work. So we can also see this kind of presentation as a (studio) exhibition or as an artistic installation. Kennedy was present during the visit and was available for talks.


  • Priscilla Kennedy
    Priscilla Kennedy


    A Pilgrimage.

    My studio is literally a skein; an element that forms part of a complex whole. Everything that forms part of its composition to me is like a thread being pulled through the eye of a needle to form a tapestry of narratives as body of works. I have absolutely no idea of what impact the connection of these dots/knots will fabricate or the entirety of its arrival and that to me is where I get immersed in roller coaster of jouissance. That is how the idea of process even in the most pleasurable way becomes an integral part of the context in which I work as an artist.



    Here, I connect the dots/knots within the current situation running through my artistic journey. The space in itself has multiple sub spaces I call ‘moods’’. I swing in-between these moods literally in pursuit of a certain expression towards my interests and concerns. These mood swings take off from my IDEA BOARD (https://www.explore-vc.org/en/galleries-content/idea-board.html) where my thoughts appear partially in flesh. That for me becomes my point of departure into streams of decision making. In totality, it’s a snapshot of all my thoughts as a cohesive whole where I can make choices guided by my ultimate motivation at a given time, on a particular body of work.


    Then I swing into my RED BOOK (https://www.explore-vc.org/en/galleries-content/red-book.html) where I narrow down my thoughts into writings as part of a research. In transition from the previous mood of writing to this new mood is the optimum to my purpose, which refers to the making or the tangible expression. I deliberately swing back and forth between these two moods to create a certain dialectical relationship between them as a deliberate and crucial aspect to my practice. This opens up my explorations and discussions of the subject of the body, the politics of marginalization and subjugation from a feminine perspective with the use of materials and techniques connected to a certain body presence (craft).


    Enchanted by the Familiar.

    I see the body as a fluid material that morphs with time or momentarily based on certain conditions or instances. It is like that one thing that is connected to several things. I am interested in that materiality of the body that allows it to be transient. And in terms of that materiality, what it can become and what it can do.


    So, to me, the idea of the female body aside its continuous flux is my interest in something about it that creates a permanent or ongoing relationship with itself. That is how the idea of the hand with regards to craft becomes crucial to my practice. This is in reference to its past and present subtle association with subjugation or oppression or basically how the idea of subjugation and oppression is tied to work categorized in the frame of the domestic. That sense of marginalization or the coupling of an idea to a body that makes it lay claim to a certain power absence is of interest to me.


    With the hand, I rethink the value of craft.

    Through that there is already an acknowledgement of a certain distance that is brought back to close proximity with the body through intimate artistic approaches like thread embroidery and tambour beading. This is where I swing to my TAMBOUR TRESTLE SPACE (https://www.explore-vc.org/en/galleries-content/tambour-trestle-space.html), here, I make laborious and intimate embroideries that feature beads. I perceive this process of beading as a metaphor in reclamation of the self, while highlighting the residue of power that still lingers within the very same system of subjugation. It is a subtle performance that happens in the studio yet inherent to the context.


    A thousand Yards Away and Within.

    I am tempted to refer to my whole studio as a bigger idea board where certain themes and artistic strategies come together to form narratives and contributions to subjects of interest. In constant exploration and experimentation, a mash up of all these themes and artistic strategies may birth a work of art that offers a blend of fabric cut-outs merged with beaded patterns or forms in the current state of my practice. Yet, I am open to exploring diverse forms of expressions in relation to the context as time goes on.


    Absorbing the Far Fetched.

    I connect with materials from a perspective where I perceive them as political instruments that exist in time and not only as objects of enjoyment. I believe in the idea of a common vocabulary in the use of familiar materials and objects because they inherently possess personal and cultural meanings from spaces they have been.


    In Pursuit of…

    If I’m to imagine my destination (the ideal work) from the swinging I’ve been doing for some time now, I assume I’m going to arrive at a magical tapestry composed of fabric cuts outs of feminine bodies fused with other forms of embroidery that may features threads and beads. These materials and artistic approaches may be composed to create fantastical characters, emerging out of a playful hybridization of the human body and sometimes other life forms.

    My destination may not be a narrow one, I believe, but one of diverse interesting processes where I can achieve limitless possibilities in my creative projects. The narratives within the symbolic realm of imagery seek to emancipate the oppressed feminine body through a material and technique culture.

    Ernst Wagner
    Ernst Wagner

    gh pk studio beads

     Fig.Table in front of the window with bead embroideries


    In the photo we see the artist's studio; in it, work tools (such as rubber gloves, a sewing machine, rulers), materials to stimulate the artistic process (e.g. image sources, sketchbooks, materials) and artistic work results. The room is painted white, even the crumbling block in the right-hand corner. This echoes the idea of the "white cube" with neutral walls as a currently still valid basic model for exhibition spaces of contemporary art. Everything is very clean and tidy. On the three tables in the room, materials and tools are arranged like in a still life. For example, on the table in front of the (curtained) window, an arrangement showing, among other things, a round embroidery frame with a bead embroidery that is not yet finished: work in progress. Everything is obviously deliberately placed in this museum-like working space, which thus develops a programmatic expressiveness.


    gh pk studio prints

    Fig. Print outs on the wall, red book


    Fabrics, textiles play a major role in this scenario. They are simply material (the kente fabrics on the right) or supports for the two larger works (also on the right). But they also play a major role in the many pictures (DIN A 4 printouts on the left wall), now as depicted clothing: women's dresses in older prints, on works of art (from ancient Egypt) to more recent photographs. Surprisingly, there are images of the vestments of Catholic priests and, beyond that, abstract fabric patterns, ornaments. Working with fabric (which also includes the embroidery frame) is repeatedly found as an important field of work for feminist-oriented artists or for a feminist-oriented visual language in contemporary art.


    The DIN A 4 printouts are partly annotated in writing, which reinforces the impression that we are dealing with a "picture atlas" in the sense of Aby Warburg or an "atlas" in the sense of Gerhard Richter, i.e. an often surprising compilation of pictures which in this combination can or should provide very systematic suggestions for pictorial design and for reflecting on contexts.


    This also includes the other collections of pictures in the room, in the photo album, on the computer or in transparent sleeves (on the right-hand table), which are obviously often biographically oriented, for example through the baby and children's photos, or through images of their own artistic works.


    The overall picture is thus dominated by central aspects of current "global art", an art that could just as easily be shown in Berlin or New York. In this one, however, site-specific aspects, i.e. aspects related to Kumasi, Ghana or West Africa, emerge again and again: the kente fabrics, the photos in the album, even the materiality and construction of the walls speak of the place of origin.


    gh pk studio montage

    Fig. Priscilla Kennedy, o.T. (experimental study)


    This coming together of different thematic layers becomes clear once again in a detail, the painting that the artist presents in her studio on the right wall and which she herself sees as a technical experiment (see illustration below).[1] It shows an adaptation of Ingres' painting "Great Odalisque" from 1814, now in the Louvre. The superimposed head of an older white man (Arthur Schopenhauer) is reminiscent of the same pictorial strategy that the Guerilla Girls successfully tried out with the odalisque in 1989 by putting a gorilla head on it ("Do women have to get naked to get into the Met. Museum?"). While the other elements of the work vary the forms from Ingres' painting, mainly in colour and technique, there is one crucial addition in this work: a small baby in silhouette, black, looking up at Schopenhauer and casting a shadow on the pale odalisque body. The whole thing is printed or embroidered on a transparent, light fabric that throws folds.


    gh pk studio ingres

    Fig. Ingres, The Great Odalisque, oil on canvas, 1814, Louvre


    These references make the picture seem familiar to Europeans, but in its combinatorics and with the harsh contrasts it is enigmatic, just like Kennedy's studio itself. Here, an icon of Western art is cheekily alienated, here the canvas becomes a thin nettle, here the woman becomes a man, the soft cushion becomes a hard wedge, the white woman gets a black baby. On the one hand, objects and their meanings are thus unambiguously designated and named, but at the same time, through the artistic formulation and its combination, they are placed in an enigmatic resonance space, which immediately eludes the unambiguous settings that have just been made. An "in-between space" between black and white skin colour, man and woman, opaque and transparent, old man and young child, European (old) art and West African (young) art.


    If one looks back through this image (which is taken here - against the artist's intention - as a key image) to the studio, one finds very similar constellations there: empty chasubles of Catholic, i.e. male priests against female bodies in erotically charged clothing, falling, soft fabrics against rigid measuring instruments from geometry lessons, physicality against abstract patterns and ornaments. With such contradictions Kennedy creates an experimental constellation, she spans a field that reports on possibilities in between without letting them culminate in a final work. The open, unfinished field of experimentation thus becomes the actual "work".



    [1]              "This work does not have a title. I considered it as an experiment to try printing with a blend of embroidery. What is actually piercing through from the back is also part of the experimental process where I made heat transfers again behind the fabric to see the interplay of images from various directions of the material. I do not consider it as a work but as an experiment. " (Information from Kennedy to the author via email on 5.10.2022)