Arts + Culture

Ghanaian-American Artist Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh Reflects on 'BLUE STEAL' in This New Video

Take a closer glimspe into Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh's exhibition, 'BLUE STEAL' in this new video by Okay Space.

BROOKLYN—Earlier this month we sat down with Ghanaian-American multidisciplinary artist Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh as he opened his exhibition, BLUE STEAL in Okay Space.


A multimedia exhibition, BLUE STEAL is drawn from a chapter of his existential narrative, The Birth of Tiro, where he intersects his performative and studio practices introducing a futurist take of liberty and theft.

We catch up with him again as his show is nearing its end date with a video showing the intricate details and textures of his art, as well as his words explaining what BLUE STEAL means to him. The video captures the cool vibes of BLUE STEAL’s opening night with glimpses of fog, beautiful shades of blue and pink, and people in community. We even get to hear Orraca-Tetteh’s original music in the background.

Watch the clip below and read our brief conversation with Orraca-Tetteh’s on artists who influenced his work and his reflections on opening night.

OkayAfrica: Your show BLUE STEAL is winding down very soon, when you reflect back on your opening night at Okay Space, what are your feelings around people’s reactions to your work?

Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh: Since my twin brother and I left NYC to the Bronx only to return years later, I’ve had within me a compulsion to connect to the very ground from which I came into birth. It was an honor to have the company of legendary New York cultural icons, and I did get to met new people—they just happened to be wells of communal spirit and energy. I was feeling as though people were really resonating with each other. My work created a setting for people feel comfortable to speak with each other generally.

OkayAfrica: In our previous conversation, you spoke of the influence creatives like Mr. T and David O. Russell had on your work—who are some other artists that inspired you?

AK: The night that I painted BLUE STEAL, I had gone to the Whitney Museum to see the Fast Forward salon. The salon recapitulated a lot of the turmoil and angst and extremity of the 80s and the existing hangover and resolution from the perspectives from these artists like Ross Bleckner, Moira Dryer and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It paid homage those who were embedded in that era in a very poetic way. Getting to connect with a lot of artists I grew up on, I was super inspired and unapologetically excited when I came to my studio and painted the work within an hour and a half. I then told myself that for me to be able to connect this painting with other people’s perceptions, perhaps I should give pause—an artist has to negotiate at which point one should pause from the work to reflect on what they’re trying to convey.

"Whitewater Weekend." Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh.
Oil, acrylic, ink on tinted fabric, 2016. 9’ x 4.5’ [274 cm x 137cm]. Photo courtesy of Okay Space.

Water finds its way into a lot of my paintings. Waves speak visually, intricately, pronouncing wordless thoughts—present feelings we can all understand. In this way Whitewater Weekend is an ‘in real life’ reply to Eric Fischl's A Visit To/ A Visit From/ The Island.

With Whitewater Weekend and the removal of cloth from frame—I want to give the viewer a feel of touch, a synesthesia. El Anatsui's tapestries, Sam Gilliam's draped canvasses, I love these works. They suggest painting as dress, as fabric, a protective cloak of the imagination.

BLUE STEAL runs until June 1.

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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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