Over the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of African print and culture in the mainstream. From the epidemic of ‘Angelina’ dashikis to the notorious need-to-see-to-believe ‘Ghana-Must-Go’ bags going for thousands of pounds and being billed as ‘high fashion’, you don’t need to go far nowadays to catch an essence of Africa. Even so, despite seeing a hint of kente here and some semblance of an adinkra sign there, it was easy to find aspects of African culture appropriated and you didn’t see much evidence of those who are considered royalty in western black culture catch onto the African trend.
So when a portrait painting of Nicki Minaj dressed completely in beautiful traditional kente and rechristened ‘Nicki Maame Akua Amponsah’ began to filter across our timelines and bleed down our social media profiles, many sat up and took notice. The painting went viral, and more pieces of art depicting the biggest and best stars of our age adorned in African garments were gradually unearthed. On searching for the artist responsible, all roads led to the New York Bronx.
For there resides Dennis Owusu-Ansah – a 26 year old New Yorker visual artist of Ghanaian descent who is a producer of pop art highlighting the beauty of African culture using popular personalities as his muses. His work has seen a burst in popularity and intrigue. However, superimposed upon his work’s viral nature is a serious motivation to drive aside the misconceptions many have regarding Africa.
In a recent interview with CNN, he notes how an unfortunate incidence of ignorance triggered him to get to work with his paints and use his artistry to challenge perceptions of Africans. “After witnessing my friend get teased by a group of men for wearing a kente cloth on our way to church, I figured something must be done to change the perspective of people who are not familiar with the African culture,” he told CNN. “They had no idea what my friend was wearing. One of the guys shouted ‘that man has a blanket wrapped around his body like it’s winter time.’ I saw this incident as an opportunity to educate people about who we are, and what we stand for through my art.”
His ideas fall in line with the much acclaimed T.I.N.A. (This Is New Africa) adage advocated by Ghanaian musician Fuse ODG, who tirelessly pushes the agenda that Africa needs to be depicted in a better, more glorious light than Western society tends to throw upon it. “Africa isn’t only about what the media portrays on television, [but is] a continent rich in history, diversity and traditions” Dennis opines.
And what better canvas upon which to depict that richness in culture than the biggest and most-celebrated stars of young black culture today. The works of Dennis Owusu-Ansah burst with bright colour, bold statements on a background of elegance and with a foreground of opulence. How can someone fail to be captivated by the sight of Meagan Good wearing an extravagant gele, or rap behemoth Rick Ross adorned in the vestments of a Nigerian chief? How can you not be enamoured with the sight of Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs & Jay-Z, usually spotted in the cleanest of suits and urbanwear, dressed in the finest Nigerian and Ghanaian apparel – depicted as West African royalty.
He even remixes the names of his subjects when he posts their portraits, fully integrating them into the fabric of African culture – so we have had the pleasure of being introduced to characters such as ‘Sean Puffy Nana Antwi Combs’, ‘Meagan Omotola Good’, ‘Chief Shawn Ugonna Jay Z Carter’ & ‘Chris Kofi Sarpong Brown.’
Just like Peniel Enchill in January 2015, Dennis Owusu-Ansah is a Ghanaian artist who is taking the world and social media by storm at the turn of a year. “I’ve been getting positive comments from people all over the world,” he told Okayafrica in a recent interview. “It’s good to hear people you’ve never met tell you that your art puts a smile on their faces. Comments like that motivate me to work harder every day.”
The artistry of Dennis Owusu-Ansah has given those who may not be too familiar with African culture a bridge over which they can cross in order to appreciate the power and the nobility which resides within. How better to showcase the best of African culture by using some of the most recognisable stars around – using those with the biggest social media followings and the biggest fan nations to spark a strong desire to learn more about authentic and genuine African culture. The movement of African awareness now has another member added to its ranks, as Dennis continues on his mission to challenge misconceptions by bringing Africa to the world at large and making Africa accessible through contemporary pop art.