Materiality of Art & the Art of Thanks

ACI Artist Leader Basil Kincaid 

Project: "Reclamation Ghana" 2014-15

Placement: Accra, Ghana 

Hometown: St. Louis, USA 

As I look back over the course of this year I feel my conception of time expanding and contracting simultaneously. So much has happened, so many relationships has forged in the cauldron of shared creative space. When I close my eyes I can still feel the Ghanaian sun warm on my skin or the stars playing with my eyelids as I bathe under them at the end of a long day of making. 

I feel that the one year with Arts Connect International has catalyzed and cultivated me to become a new man and artist. 

In today’s writing I would like to explore this process through the lens of the materials that I interacted with, and how the pursuit to work with and adventure into my work, through found materials facilitated this deep and natural connection with the spaces and people that I interacted with. 

When I first arrived at Ghana it was a frustrating challenge to think about art making. I was surrounded by artists, poets, photographers, musicians, performers and human beings who were all so tremendously talented, many of whom were also already working with found materials. I often wondered in those first few weeks what I had to offer the space. 

I remember feeling particularly silly as a couple friends of mine and I explored some streets and spaces in Jamestown, the heart of Accra, for locations to film a music video for a local DJ and fashion icon. As we crawled these streets we found ourselves in a fantastic and magical space where people were reclaiming and enlivening found and used materials of all kinds. 

Old metal boxes were being remade into immaculate storage trunks. Car parts were being made into weight lifting sets. Kids were making toy cars from bottle tops and cans. Tomato paste tins were being made into oil burning lamps. Nothing was being wasted, everything was being recycled. 

I stood there in awe thinking to myself “These people are masters of Reclamation, What can I add? What can I offer?” then I paused and felt deep within myself a voice creep up whispering “Think of all you can learn”. 

I smiled what may have seemed to my friends a very random smile, but it was genuine to the moment. I was elated to be submerged in such a rich culture of recycling and people with an intimate relationship with the things that they consume and discard. I took the next few weeks to just observe and absorb, taking it all in to the point of near sensory overload. 

So many new sights, sounds, tastes and materials, I was excited to create. 

I was immediately drawn to the sachets used for drinking pure water and the cellular network scratch cards that were used for making calls, sending text messages and connecting to the internet. 

The scratch cards were so small in my mind, that at first I felt like I couldn’t do something impactful with them. However, they invaded my mind with this hauntingly sweet curiosity calling me to collect them… so I did. As I collected these materials they expanded in my mind raising questions and presenting fascinating sets of implications. 

The most spellbinding effect of my relationship with these materials and space was the way they encouraged, and actually forced me to rethink myself – my processes and my presence as an artist, which in turn propelled me into new and exciting creative territory. This led to a body of work that is stronger, more inquisitive and naturally driven by the place and culture. Moreover, responding to the materials naturally led to work and techniques that were more suited to the materials rather than leaning on media or working methods that I had traditionally been comfortable with. 

I ended up making large scale collages and sculptures, both of which I had never done before and they came out better than any art that I have ever made in my own opinion. 

This journey shook me up in a way. It was like opening my skull, turning me upside down, shaking out all of the debris and preconceived notions about art, creation, being and everything else, then after dusting off all of the pieces of me placing everything back neatly in more suiting places: cleansing the lenses of my outer and inner eyes, then letting me go into a new world. 

I feel like my words only trivialize the experience in a way because, as I sit now, I feel that there is no way to truly express the depth of what happened to me in the past year. I am so thankful for everyone I met and experienced in Ghana. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to grow in the ways that I have. The people of Labadi; where I lived and worked, really made this work possible, from the kids and various people that helped me collect materials to the dedicated collaborators that worked with me every day to actualize the ideas and expand the work. 

I am endlessly thankful to the men and women that treated me like family, teaching me bits of Ga, feeding me and keeping an eye on me – making sure I was safe and well. I want to extend a special thanks to Serge Attukwei Clottey  for inviting me into his home, life and community. I’d also like to thank Rhodaline Parlon who stuck with me, teaching me about the culture and helping every day with my work they both became true and unforgettable friends. 

I am thankful to everyone on board with ACI, from the board to all of the people that influence the ship playing seemingly invisible roles. To Marian, the fearless leader and helms woman. 

Special thanks to You as you read this now – all of whom have traveled with me through my fledgling words and incomplete reincarnations of an experience too grand for my net of words to catch and properly describe. 

Thank you.