A Conversation with Alvin Kofi, Multidisciplinary Artist & Storyteller
A second-generation West Indian, based in the UK, whose parents came from Antigua, Kofi’s career has been strongly associated with the Black UK arts movement. His creative perspective is very much African-centred through which the Black body becomes his muses as he explores traditional notions of Caribbean and African culture and its place in the historical narrative of the Diaspora.
I have never thought of myself as political, but in today’s world the role of the artist to raise questions, educate and to inspire, sits heavily on your shoulders when the commission is to contribute to the narrative of our own people. You can not sit quietly when so much wrong has been done, you understand with each creation you can help to change the narrative of our history.
What black activists, abolitionists, artists or change-makers (past or present) inspired you and your work?
We walk in the bright shadow of a legacy as old as the human race and artists who have chosen to represent this legacy have influenced my work. Charles White was an American artist known for his chronicling of African cosmology and social-related subjects in paintings, drawings, lithographs, and murals. John Biggers, one of the first African American artists to go to West Africa and documented his experience in a beautifully illustrated book called ‘Ananse’ The Web of Life in Africa, first published in 1979.
Fowokan George Kelly a self-taught Jamaican-born Sculptor, photographer, videographer, poet and writer – who migrated to the UK at the age of 14 in 1957, stayed committed to the representation of an African-centred figurative expression. Kerry James Marshall, an American artist who re-addresses the historical narrative in him paintings and open up the question of the non-representation of the Black figure in Western art institutions and museums. Who continues to change the stage of Western Art History.
Of course, much of my work is provoked by my own lived experiences, having spent time in the Caribbean and Africa. As you unravel the complexities of a misrepresented history your own discoveries feed themselves into the composition and narratives of the painting you create. Each of these paintings in some way shadow my own journey.
“Mummy I want to go to England”: talks of the split that so many Caribbean families experienced and the difficult conversation that continues to take place as parents try to explain the spaces in their family timeline that are often not talked about.
“Yes, Olowe of Ise, Let the Women Bring their Gifts”: The consideration of our reputation and rescue I think lies in our journey back to our values and traditions. Whether in the Caribbean or Africa, the role of the Matriarchal centre in society needs to be established. Olowe of Ise, was one the first African artist to be recognised by the European culture.
Portrait entitled, “Memories of Our Future”: In 2022, my daughter went home to Antigua & Barbuda to spend some time with her grandmother. She is a second-generation Windrush child whose identity has been moulded by Caribbean and British culture.
She shared with me her experience of an island that has come to mean so much to her which moved me to paint this portrait and to inspire young creatives to explore their heritage through the process of portraiture.
Spending that time home deepened her roots and understanding of the dynamics of individual relationships between those who stayed in the Caribbean and those who took up the call to the ‘Motherland’ to rebuild war-torn Britain and to fulfil their dreams.
“Contemplation: self-portrait”. In 2020, I entered the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year Award and was one of only two black male artists to ever reach the finals. As much as the the vast majority of the audience for the show was white I felt it necessary to present a portrait that represent something of our culture.
You can connect with Alvin Kofi through his website: https://www.alvinkofi.com.