Adelaide Damoah is a British artist of Ghanaian descent whose earlier work combined African and Western influences while highlighting social issues. Her current practice involves using her body as a “living paintbrush” to paint or print onto various surfaces. Damoah discusses her series.
A: You use your body as a tool to paint – the resulting compositions utilise a sense of performance. How did you develop this method and who are you inspired by?
AD: In 2016, my friend, mentor and colleague Rachel Ara critiqued work from my previous exhibition This is Us. Her opinion was that the work was not successfully communicating what I wanted to convey. Previously I had used figurative painting to explore themes around sexuality and gender using very traditional methods. She challenged me to think about the absence of the figure and to stop trying to be a traditional figure painter. Rachel felt I had a visual language beyond figuration and that my ideas could manifest in alternative ways to the trajectory I was trying to follow. While this was painful to hear, it was the most useful analysis of my work I had ever had. It forced me to re-evaluate and I started to look at Ana Mendieta and how she used the presence or absence of her body. Thinking about the body lead me back to Yves Klein and his 1960 Anthropomentries performance. I watched clips of it many times. Thinking about body printing and identity led me to David Hammons and his iconic and often politically charged body prints. I developed my process by reading about these artists techniques and also through experimentation. I am inspired by all of the artists mentioned above, and most importantly by Rachel who encouraged me to think outside of who I was as an artist.
A: What relevance does colour theory have to your works and how do you consider the types of colours that you use?
AD: I currently use a very limited palette. I choose one colour to make the body prints and choose this colour based on what feeling I want to convey or what I want to remind the viewer of- rather than colour theory per se. With the first iteration of body prints, I used alizaron crimson, which does not quite look like blood, but it reminds me of blood. I wanted the viewer to feel the fact that this was a body of flesh and blood that left this imprint. Some people think they can see the shapes of muscle striations in this work and I believe this is because of the colour, as the same is not said of my blue performance pieces. There is also the link to blood line, my blood line. I have used image transfers of family members dating back to the early 1900’s in this work.
Then there is gold. I started to use gold because I discovered that my mother’s side of the family were wealthy in the 1800s and early 1900s. Their wealth came from gold. I wanted to use gold in the work as another link to them. I wanted to use gold from Ghana as this is where my family originate from. I could not get my hands on Ghana gold leaf here, so I went to a UK company who said they get their gold from China (currently the biggest producers of gold in the world). This then reminded me of the relationship of China to Africa and to Ghana and the various political arguments suggesting the possibility of this relationship being tantamount to neo-colonialism. But this is another conversation.
For the live performance at Unfold, I used ultramarine blue as a direct reference to Yves Klein’s 1960 performance. Here, I wanted the audience to understand that I was in conversation with this artist, positioning the work in an art historical context.
A: How do you think that your works tie into feminist politics and the representation of the female body?
AD: In my performance The Inconsistency of the Self performed at UNFOLD space in 2017, I was in direct conversation with Yves Klien’s Anthropemetries performance, during which he directed a group of naked women to rub paint on their bodies and print themselves onto a surface. Feminist discourse around the performance included the idea that by directing the women and subsequently distancing himself from the process of making the work, he created a passive female body which could not only be objectified by the male gaze, but could also represent a way for expressing and reinforcing patriarchal values. I tend to agree with that criticism. In my performance, I am the director of my own body and I choose how I move it and place it. By granting myself that agency, my intention is to subvert the original idea
Female artists have been tying feminist politics in with performance art using their bodies for decades. In her 1975 performance Interior Scroll, Carolee Schneemann literally rooted artistic discourse – a very male thing at the time – inside her body. She morphed herself into a site for artistic discussion, rather than for the projection of sexual desires. Ana Mendieta was a self confessed feminist artist and made many important works which looked specifically at gender and female representation using her body. At the time, much criticism was levelled at female artists using their bodies to enact the feminist idea of the personal as political, including the idea that women who did so may be playing into the hands of the patriarchy by effectively helping to further objectify women (Catherine Francblin) whilst using their bodies in ways which some could observe as narcissistic exhibitionism or self abuse. Mendieta went on to distance herself from using her body directly as a consequence of such criticism. I am interested in continuing this conversation and think about and research the subject as an integral part of making the work.
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