With a heavy heart, I deeply regret to announce the passing of a dear friend, brother and colleague; (Dr.) Atta Kwami (1956 – 2021); Atta, as I called him, died on the afternoon of October 6, 2021.

He had turned 65, on September 14, and we all wished him happiness, good health and long life.

Even though I had learnt of the terminal nature of Atta’s illness, his positive response to all the birthday felicitations on Social Media was so heart-warming; little did I think he would leave us so soon.

This makes his transition rather shocking and painful. He was hoping to visit his dear homeland, Ghana, at least, for the last time, but it was never to be.

Atta Kwami was one of Ghana’s most internationally distinguished artists.

He was not only a passionate and consummate painter, and installation artist; he was also an Art Historian who wrote extensively on Ghanaian contemporary art.

In 2013, he published the seminal book, “Kumasi Realism – An African Modernism, 1951 – 2007”, which documented the development of contemporary art in Kumasi – Ghana’s second biggest city, where Kwami spent many years as student and lecturer at Ghana’s premier College of Art in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

As a painter, Kwami had an experimental bent, right from the beginning.

He started off as an Abstract Expressionist, working in the vein of the Action Painters, sticking pans and other detritus from the environment into his paintings.

Shown in Ghana, they were a novelty on the largely conservative art terrain, where most artists at the time worked in the representational and figurative mode.

His annual exhibitions held jointly with the Painter/ Sculptor Kofi Setordji and the Painter Emmanuel Anku-Golloh at the Goethe Institute in Accra were very much looked up to with excitement.

After many years, Kwami transformed from his earlier Ab Ex style of painting into a Geometric Lyrical Abstractionist, working with loosely constructed grids and strident but sonorous colors. His canvases vibrate with so much energy.

In later years he translated these gridded paintings onto free-standing sculptures – monumental arcades, constructed with plywood, and kioks, which are ubiquitous in the Ghanaian urban landscape.

While the gridded paintings on the arcades and kioks were hard-edged, his paintings on canvas remained loosely gridded.

Kwami established in Kumasi, Ghana the SaNsA International Artists Workshop, a wing of the International Triangle Artists Workshop (a brainchild of the British Master Sculptor Sir Anthony Caro), which brought local and international artists together for a couple of weeks, to work and exhibit their art. SaNsA in Ghana ran three iterations, from 2004 to 2009.

Kwami specially invited me to be part of the last installment of SaNsA in 2009.

 Unfortunately, I couldn’t honor the invitation, because I had just lost my father and I was saddled with organizing his funeral.

Later, in a phone conversation, Kwami told me what I had missed, that the event was immensely successful. “It was like an international biennale,” he said excitedly.

While teaching at KNUST, Kwami set up an avant-garde art journal, BAMBOLSE, with the assistance of two of his protégés, who were students at the Art College, the Painter and Musician Henri (Papa) Asare-Baah and the Painter George Afedzi Hughes. BAMBOLSE ran for a few years.

It is significant to mention here a distinguished art teacher of Kwami – the premminent Ghanaian Painter (Prof.) Ato Delaquis who taught him in secondary school, at the prestigious Achimota School, in Accra and also, at KNUST Art College -interestingly, they later became faculty colleagues at the Art College.

Kwami himself was born into an artistic family, his father, a music teacher and the mother, the prominent first generation Ghanaian contemporary artist, and teacher, Grace Kwami.

Kwami maintained studios between Loughborough, U. K. and Kumasi, Ghana.

Kwami participated in a number of major group exhibitions, notable among them, (1): “West to West: Owusu-Ankomah and Friends,” at the State Gallery of Bremen, Bremen, Germany, which also featured Owusu-Ankomah himself, Bright Bimpong, Sokari Douglas Camp, Godfried Donkor, Romaould Hazoume, George Afedzi Hughes and Lawson Oyekan, and (2): “The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles/Recent Art,” at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, U. S. A, 2008, featuring other African giants, El Anatsui, Samuel Cophie, Viye Diba, Sokari Douglas Camp, Group Bogolan Kasobane, Abdoulaye Konate, Rachid Koraichi, Grace Ndiritu, Nike Okundaye, Owusu-Ankomah, Yinka Shonibare,, Malick Sidibe, Nontsikelelo “Lelo” Valeko and Sue Williams.

His work was exhibited all over the world and featured in many publications on contemporary African art.

Earlier this year, he won the prestigious 2021 Maria Lassing Foundation Prize, which had a 50,000 Euro component; an exhibition project with the Serpentine Galleries, London and a  monograph publication in 2022.

Always a keen and erudite intellectual, apart from our art, we shared a common passion – a crazy, inveterate indulgence in profuse art literature, art history, libraries, books and writing.

We would often discuss new books we were reading. Kwami was always very much abreast with new publications on art, especially, African art, and he would recommend a book or two to me.

On one of his visits home from the U. K., he brought me a gift of the newly published catalog on El Salahi, for the artist’s retrospective at the Tate Modern, London. It has a special place in my library.

Atta was a gentleman, in the truest sense of the word; always calm and with a broad welcoming smile; gracious in his manners, generous and humble.

He is survived by his dear artist spouse, Printmaker Pamela Clarkson-Kwami. My heartfelt condolences to Pamela, his numerous friends and family (home and abroad) and the Ghanaian art world. Ghana has, indeed, lost a rare gem of an artist and an intellectual!

Journey well, my brother. I wish you eternal rest in the bosom of the Lord, our Creator.


DUE NE AMENEHU!!!!!!!…..

Leave a Reply