not a crow, not in a gallery, silver gelatin print, 18 cm x 24 cm, 2020

SINCE 2020

It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.

James Baldwin in ‘They Can’t Turn Back’, 1960

Would my great-grandfather, Wilhelm Schlüter, have allowed me to live? He was a Senior Lance Corporal in the German Air Force during World War II. What would I have discussed with my grandmother, Yaa Manu, if we had shared a common language? She was Ashanti and only spoke Twi; sadly, I never learned my father’s language.

Inheritance – Poems of Non-Belonging reveals contrasts emerging from my German-Ghanaian, often seemingly irreconcilable cultural background. This body of work revolves around skin and its vulnerability, as reflected on my living body, in lifeless shells, or photographic carriers. The fragmentation of the self is explored through the lens of photographic materiality. Much of the work lies on the spectrum between black and white, two opposing poles in analog photography, contingent on light and shadow, allowing infinite nuances in varying doses. I work with a collection of negatives from my own photographs and old photos from my family archive. The images continuously evolve. The works are sometimes temporary, as I alter their form after some time. The photographic objects are unique pieces and exist within the context of iterations. I produce the large-format prints myself in the color darkroom, which, when working with black-and-white photography, opens up unique tonal realms.

contact (parents), contact print of two negatives under glass, detail, 2023

Exhibition view, Kunststipendien der Stadt Zürich 2023, Helmhaus, Zürich

Individual pieces from left to right:

Fathers, Wilhelm Schlüter [chromogenic iteration 1]
2023, photographic object (C-print, plexiglass drawing, wood, paint), 120 cm x 152 cm x 5 cm
– portrait of my great-grandfather

Women, Fire [first iteration, from one to nine]
2021-2023, photographic objects (laser prints, black frames, garbage bags), 42 cm x 42 cm x 2 cm each
– photographs from Castle Elmina’s female slave dungeon in Cape Coast

2020/2023, photographic sculpture (silk, light-sensitive emulsion, white and black threads, twigs, stone), approx. 20 cm x 20 cm x 100 cm
– a self portrait

Fathers, Stephen Kofi [chromogenic iteration 1]
2020/2023, photographic object (C-print, plexiglass, wood, paint), 120 cm x 152 cm x 5 cm
– portrait of my blind father, photographed one year before his death

Notes on stone:

I coated approximately one square meter of bourette silk with photosensitive chlorobromide emulsion, then exposed it with a black-and-white negative of a macro photograph of my skin. Then, I dipped it in photographic developer, chemically fixed it, soaked it in water, dried it, folded it, crumpled it, dried it again, and loosely held it in shape with white yarn. The wet photo emulsion is very vulnerable, leading to a landscape of unevenly distributed scars that remind me of my own body. Most of my scars remain because of hyperpigmentation.
My skin takes years to heal even from the smallest damages.
After the sudden death of my father in 2021, much has changed.
Death changes you. The view of the works, the relationship to the work, everything. Probably nothing ever stays the same. But in the grieving process, it feels as if you are slipping away from yourself. And once you find yourself again, but you’ve become different.
In 2023, stone no longer suited me. I cut the work open, reassembled it, and tried to restore the old form, which was not possible. So I sewed together some of the opened edges with black yarn.

Notes on Women, Fire:

Castle Elmina in Cape Coast, Ghana, was the first slave trading post in sub-Saharan Africa, originally built in the 15th century by the Portuguese for gold trading. The photographs come from the women’s slave dungeon. Chains are embedded in the floor where the women were bound. Above each chain lies a red, dusty, heavy piece of cloth. Today, the castle is a popular tourist spot, but I couldn’t find out who placed these pieces of cloth on the floor at what time. For me, they each marked a female body. I photographed them like an organic heap of skin, something dying, a shell, something separated. There were three entrances to the women’s slave dungeon. Through one entrance, the women were brought into the dungeon. Through another passage, the women were led to the Door of No Return; the last view of the land before they were forced onto the ships. The third entrance was a direct connection to the luxurious rooms of the white slaveholders, who could help themselves to the women at any time. The photographs are printed as thin inkjet prints on thin paper and positioned in square black frames, lined with black garbage bags instead of white mats. The crumpled plastic reminds one of body bags, death logistics, and contributes to the strict formality of the work. The title of the work is inspired by Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing.

laboratory views, Berlin 2023
© 2024 Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah

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