Feel Hypnotised with the Gaze and Clothes in Emmanuel Taku’s Subjects

Get immersed in a universe of pairs throughout the massive compositions by Emmanuel Taku. The blank eyes, staring straight at the viewer, converse at first glance about a myriad of elements like identity, subjecthood, gender, and sexuality. Everything, of course brushed over with a stroke of fabulousness and style. The West African artist takes over the larger than life subjects that look fearlessly into the viewer, and that in turn, speak volumes of their creator and his own story. We had the chance to speak to Taku, who shared about his upbringing and evolution in style. Read below to learn more about Emmanuel Taku.

Brother Brother, 214 cm x 300 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did art first enter your life? 

I, Emmanuel Taku, (b. 1986) hail from, work and reside in Ghana. I studied and trained  formally in Visual Arts and Textiles at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design (Ghana) for 4  years [2005 to 2009] alongside fellow figurative artists like Kwesi Botchway and Otis Quaicoe.  The Noldor Residency will serve as my debut showing within the contemporary art ecology. Here, with my mixed media approach of newspaper and acrylic on canvas, I have created my  figurative surrealist series titled “Temple of Blackness – It Takes Two”.  

My work reflects my love for textiles with a silk-screening approach and my commitment to  capturing black bodies in the abstract – one as reflection of the other.  

I live and work in Accra, Ghana. 

The Amethyst Pair, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies? 

Yes it has. The use of floral paisley prints comes from my personal fascination with the pattern  and fabric that has always been a part of my life since youth – whether as tablecloth or in  garments. I also felt that paisley represents a melting pot of cultural identity; first being  fashioned in India and expanding in reach before becoming adopted into a British sensibility  and finally the sartorial mainstream. I’ve always worn paisley. 

Brothers in Lilac, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

What’s your process like? How do you begin a work? 

I initially begin with the underlying form and structure after deciding on a subject – this might be  a subject I know in some cases and sometimes it’s a muse I know from a distance. Upon  establishing form and structure I highlight the figurative elements and proceed to apply colour  the depicts the spirit of my subject.  

From where do you draw inspiration? 

I take great inspiration from artists Toyin Ojin Odutola, Gideon Appah who has mentored me  throughout my experience at the Noldor residency and my dear friend Kwesi Botchway with  whom I went to the Ghanatta Institute of Art & Design. Frida Kahlo’s figurative surrealist  approach also served as an important study for my work and gave me the context I needed.  

Cow Boys in Blue, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

Tell us about the subjects you depict in your work. Are they people you know? 

This body of work came to me as an idea when I heard John Akomfrah speak about his  experience as a child referring to museums capturing artwork by Turner and Constable as a  ‘Temple of Whiteness’. I just remembered how that clicked for me and I truly wanted to  create my own “Temple of Blackness” capturing black people as demi-gods or heroes without  pupils or eyes; unapproachable splendour. The importance of capturing two figures in  juxtaposition was to create a sense of consolidation, synergy and unity. The anthropomorphic  silhouettes created by the bodies engulfed in silk screened fabric print are emphatic of this unity.

What larger questions do you think your work asks? 

I feel that my work asks pertinent yet ubiquitous questions referring to existence, essence and  identity of the balck body. But I also think that it asks empowering questions.

Brother’s in Red, 127cm x 200cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

If you could have dinner with three major figures, dead or alive, who would they be and why? 

Okui Enwezor and Pablo Picasso would be my top two picks. Definitely. Why > later  

Boys in Yellow, 127 cm x 200 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

Does your work reference any Art Historical movements? 

Beyond my initial affinity and inspiration from the surrealist movement in exploring my composition,  my work somewhat identifies in part with Thelma Golden’s post-black art movement ideology. My form 

A Pair in White, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

What’s next for you? 

I just finished 15 works under my figurative surrealist series titled “Temple of Blackness – It  Takes Two” and I am currently developing a new body of work for a solo exhibition in Belgium  with Maruani Mercier titled “The Chosen Few”. Super thrilled by the way my work has been  received thus far. 

The Siemese Twins, 127 cm x 200 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency

At the end of each interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you  love and would like for us to interview next. Who would you suggest? 

Joshua Oheneba-Takyi would be my chosen recommendation. A Junior Fellow at Noldor I’ve had the  privilege of working side by side with in the midst of Noldor’s enclave. 

My Brother’s Keeper, 127 cm x 200 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and The Noldor Residency