Images courtesy of Sarfo Emmanuel Annor.

Spotlight: Ghana’s Sarfo Emmanuel Annor Is Celebrating African Beauty

We spoke with the visual artist about honoring your heritage and trusting in the journey to success.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor. The young Koforidua native is reimaging the beauty and vibrancy of the environment he grew up in through photography and an intimate relationship with color. Annor graduated high school in 2019 and was gifted a cellphone that went on to become his first mode of capturing and communicating his creative potential and wildest dreams. The artist started off as a painter, and an apprenticeship with a local fashion designer sparked Annor’s interest in fashion’s ability to communicate beauty and heritage. Committed to seeing his ideas through, Annor began photographing his niece and young girls in his community as muses and the objects of his creative expression.

His photo series “The Essence of Colour” underlines Annor’s infatuation with youthful spirits and contrasts the depth of highly melanated skin that Africans are privileged to inherit. Influenced by his own experiences and environment, the talent uses his craft to communicate socio-economic issues plaguing Ghanaian youth while celebrating their individuality and magnetism.

\u200bFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor\u2019s photo series \u201cThe Essence of Colour.\u201dFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor’s photo series “The Essence of Colour.”

We spoke with the visual artist about finding inspiration all around you and the beauty in African diversity.

The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us about the project that first inspired you to create?

My first project was quite special. After graduating from high school, my sister gifted me a phone, and I used to take random photos of family and friends and edit them for fun until I one day realized I could use the phone as an art creation tool. The project that inspired me to create was a photo series about African beauty. My niece Afia modeled in the photo series, and she embodies the essence of African diversity, strength, and resilience. Africa is home to a vast array of ethnicities, languages, and traditions, resulting in a rich tapestry of beauty standards and ideals.

African beauty is often characterized by its celebration of natural features, including dark skin tones, varying hair textures, and unique facial features. The photo series was inspired by the growing movement towards embracing and appreciating the natural beauty of African individuals, challenging traditional Eurocentric standards of beauty.

What are the central themes in your work and how do you communicate them?

I would say the central theme of my work is celebrating African beauty. It tells African stories through beauty and fashion, and incorporating these aspects is my wonderful way of celebrating and showcasing the rich culture and diversity of the continent. I also work to create awareness around socio-economic problems in my country, Ghana.

One aspect of African beauty is the appreciation for dark skin tones. Many African cultures have historically held dark skin as a symbol of beauty and associated it with health, strength, and heritage. My celebration of dark skin can be seen in the use of dark-skinned models in my work and also in highlighting the skin of the models in the photos. Traditional attire and fashion also play a significant role in when defining African beauty. Different regions and ethnic groups have their own distinct clothing styles, fabrics, and patterns that reflect their cultural heritage and craftsmanship. I love to incorporate some of these traditional clothing like the Kente cloth and others in my work.

\u200bFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor\u2019s photo series \u201cThe Essence of Colour.\u201dFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor’s photo series “The Essence of Colour.”

Where do you seek inspiration and how does it find you?

As my works mostly talk about African fashion and beauty, I would say I'm mostly inspired by my culture. African culture is incredibly diverse and rich, offering a plethora of inspirations for my art.

What do you believe sets African artists apart from the rest of the world?

African artists possess a rich cultural heritage and unique perspectives that set them apart from the rest of the world.

Africa is a continent known for its immense cultural diversity, with a vast array of ethnic groups, traditions, languages, and art forms. This diversity provides African artists with a rich tapestry of inspiration, allowing them to explore a wide range of themes and artistic expressions.

Also, African art often incorporates symbolic elements and storytelling traditions. Many artworks convey deep cultural, historical, or spiritual meanings, carrying narratives of ancestral wisdom, mythologies, social issues, and personal experiences. This emphasis on storytelling adds layers of depth and significance to African art. African artists are also renowned for their vibrancy, expressiveness, and bold use of colors, patterns, and textures. Whether it's through intricate beadwork, vibrant textiles, or powerful sculptures, African artists often embrace dynamic visual elements that captivate the senses and evoke emotional responses.

\u200bFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor\u2019s photo series \u201cThe Essence of Colour.\u201dFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor’s photo series “The Essence of Colour.”

Can you talk about your use of colors and accessories?

Growing up, I loved to draw and colour and always admired the colours around me — found in nature and especially the colors of the prestigious Kente Cloth. I use vibrant colors as a form of art therapy, we are more emotionally connected to colors than we realize. They affect our mood through different associations — the human brain connects warm colours like red, orange, and yellow to a range of feelings such as passion, comfort, anger, and power. So, when people look at colors, I believe it can affect them in positive ways.

What’s something you wish someone told you at the beginning of your journey?

Embrace the journey and focus on personal growth rather than seeking instant success or validation. Building a successful art career takes time, effort, and perseverance. It's crucial to understand that progress and recognition may not come overnight. You have to be patient with yourself, keep practicing, and continue honing your skills. Success often comes to those who stay committed to their craft. In my creative process, I have encountered setbacks and faced moments of self-doubt. Instead of viewing failure as a deterrent, I saw it as an opportunity for growth. I learned from my mistakes, analyzed what went wrong, and I used those lessons to improve my art. Remember that every artist faces challenges, and resilience is key to overcoming them.

\u200bFrom Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor\u2019s photo series \u201cThe Essence of Colour.\u201d

From Ghanaian visual artist Sarfo Emmanuel Annor’s photo series “The Essence of Colour.”

Arts + Culture
Photo courtesy of Kombo Chapfika.

Zimbabwean Artist Kombo Chapfika on Using AI and AR in Art

Whether he’s creating animation for Cartoon Network or doing product design for Nespresso, the multidisciplinary artist always brings the full range of his skills to his work – as seen in his latest exhibition in Harare.

Experimentation, social commentary, visual energy – these are the tenets of Kombo Chapfika’s work. And it’s these tenets that give rise to his latest exhibition, at his TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) exhibition at Artillery Gallery in Harare. For over a decade, he’s been exploring themes of social commentary on local and global issues through his work. From digital art on canvas to hand-tufted yarn on fabric, as well as aerosol paintings on tobacco painting, Chapfika’s exhibition showcases the range of talents he’s been developing over the years.

Skilled in drawing, painting, design, animation, coding, and installations, the Zimbabwean artist believes art transcends a single medium, and that each discipline informs the other. As an indicator of this belief, his TLDR exhibition also features augmented reality (AR), with custom Instagram filters that Chapfika has developed to enhance the gallery experience.

The Zimbabwean artist has become known for combining elements of African and Western pop iconography, patterns, installations, and surreal elements to reveal unspoken subconscious narratives. Growing up, Chapfika had always been interested in visual art, and his curiosity inspired him to experiment with painting from as early as the age of 5. An economics graduate from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, he is a mostly self-taught artist whose passion for art inspired him to learn design. Over the years, he honed his craft by creating visual art in various disciplines, picking up design skills on YouTube and being taught by friends who had learned design formally.

While in the U.S., Chapfika refined his digital skills working at Cartoon Network for a period of two years, amongst other roles. To date, he has created work for Netflix, Nespresso, Interactive, The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and numerous other non-profit and corporate organizations. His latest exhibition at Artillery Gallery, which runs until the end of the month, allows him to stage work in his hometown, Harare.

He talked to OkayAfrica to share more about his exhibition and his thoughts on AI and AR.

The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

As a multidisciplinary artist, which medium do you feel most comfortable with?

I'm most comfortable with drawing since I've done that since childhood. Beyond comfort, I like variety and balance. Some mediums are more physically taxing — large paintings, tufting — others are more mentally/technically challenging — digital/code-based work. What works for me is mixing them. There will be weeks when one takes precedence, but that's always temporary.

You've collaborated with several brands internationally, with Cartoon Network, Netflix and Nespresso being a part of your catalog. Which project has challenged you the most?

Each project is quite different; different people with different goals, timelines, and ways of working. The Cartoon Network/Adult Swim team was easy to work with as it was a playful work environment where everyone had a sense of humor. The actual work of concept designing for a Netflix feature was great; I basically was digitally drawing and painting. The multiple rounds of revisions and inevitably discarded options was very different to Cartoon Network, where we were encouraged to make decisions because we had one week to create each episode, as opposed to months on a feature film.

An image of the artist Kombo Chapfika looking at the camera.Kombo Chapfika’s ‘TLDR’ exhibition is currently on show at Artillery Gallery in his hometown of Harare.Photo courtesy of Kombo Chapfika.

Can you tell us more about your TLDR exhibition at Artillery?

TLDR is my first show with Artillery, and my first show in Zimbabwe for a few years. It came together beautifully with Peter Kaunda being a pleasure to work with. I chose the title TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) to mark a milestone. I'm showing tufted work for the first time (a first in Zim, I think) and it's a return more to color and images after a very text-heavy period, which came in response to the media climate these last few years — that spawned Eish-Metro. I'm glad to reconcile the textual work with the graphic image and the tufted forms. As the AR aspects activate, I believe it will be my most coherent fusion of the different media to date.

Your work focuses on a lot of societal themes. How important is it for art to speak on issues affected by people?

What is art there for? I enjoy decorative art, but even decorative art can have some substance behind it. Artists have many roles in society and culture. Among them are to express difficult ideas, to inspire and encourage other people, to make us all freer, and help us understand each other.

The Eish-Metro installation brilliantly uses satire to speak on a lot of important issues. How did it come about and what do you think is the importance of media literacy?

I believe media literacy is extremely important as people spend more and more of their time consuming media. A lot of the ideas people carry they got via media rather than from people in their immediate circles. A lot of media is deceptive, and a lot is designed to draw attention, clicks, and outrage from people rather than inform them. People have never consumed as much media and propaganda as we do now and this affects how people think. I started Eish-Metro during lockdown when we were subjected to a torrent of propaganda. I chose to use satire to show people how manipulative a lot of it is and how it can be subverted by simple wordplay mixed with irreverence.

The curatorial statement for the TLDR exhibition was generated with the use of Chat GPT. What impact do you think AI will have on traditional art?

I wrote an essay about this. I think AI will affect most creative fields. It's already making major changes in digital arts. I think traditional art will be affected less, but it will [be], in some ways. There may be a movement towards very embodied, hand-made work, but a lot of these trends are built up via advertising rather than grassroots sentiment. If people are too passive and hooked on social media, everything will be AI shortly. I encourage more artists and art lovers to share their opinions on what art means to them, and why speed and efficiency are not really about art, but rather about technology corporations' interests. I make a distinction between art and content. It's blurry, but it's one we'll have to make more and more.

Your previous work has featured augmented reality. How do you think it can be used to amplify the gallery experience?

AR can add value to artworks. In the current show, I'll release AR filters during the run of the show to encourage return visits. I like my art to work on many levels — raw sensation, color, language, subtext, and sometimes a digital overlay using AR. If a precocious child and a very thoughtful adult can both enjoy it, that's mission accomplished.

What do you want visitors of the TLDR exhibition to leave with?

I want them to leave energized, smiling, eyes a little clearer, and minds a little sharper and [more] creative than they arrived.

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