Artist Interview: Mojo Marfo
Independent & Image Art Space: Hi Kojo. Could you please let us know more about you and your experience, which leads your art to the way we see today?
Kojo Marfo: Growing up, I was surrounded by people sculpting and carving and this piqued my interest in the arts. However, for me painting seemed to be the more straightforward way to recreate images in my own understanding. This became my outlet to express my thoughts on societal issues and spark a conversation around these issues. I reference traditional Akan art to highlight social issues such as; inequalities, religion, politics, and spiritualism. Becoming an artist was a good way for me to express my experiences and observations, holding a mirror back to society.
Independent & Image Art Space: Your paintings exhibiting at RE-SEE are about human figures, but in some way, they are not exactly portraits we are used to seeing. Just as you say, “my paintings are focused on figures from my dreams and childhood memories”. Do you think your paintings are where reality and imagination meet? What messages do you want to communicate with your viewers?
Kojo Marfo: My work is an intersection between reality and imagination.
I want my artwork to create a connection with people. To be a symbol for everyone to relate to; the rich, the poor, the happy, and the sad. No matter what you are going through, or where you live I want my art to help people think and reflection their inner lives and how it relates to the wider world. I hope people will be able to connect with my work, and leave with a better understanding of my culture, who I am and what I stand for.
Independent & Image Art Space: The vibrant colors in your paintings are very impressive. They can help to deliver your messages, do you agree? In terms of using colors and other painting techniques, were you influenced by some artists or art schools?
Kojo Marfo: My paintings are confluence of influences – from Picasso and Basquiat to archaic and tribal art – that inspired me to create these figures and helped me to structure and ultimately set myself on the path towards contemporary art.
The graffiti scene has had a great influence on my work. Working in this form enabled me to break down resistance to using vibrant, striking colours. In addition, it gave me the confidence needed to pursue art without departing from my own cultural heritage.
Independent& Image Art Space: Being an artist may be joyful, but not easy. You must like your job. What is the hardest part of creating a painting? What is your favorite part of being an artist?
Kojo Marfo: In the beginning of my career, times were hard and I was torn between finding a”real job” and being recognized as an artist. Finding the right gallery and the right platform to showcase my work was a significant challenge.I tried to sell my art in marketplaces and had to chase galleries to sell my work, but often I couldn’t make enough to live on.
It got toa point in 2005, when I had to give up art for some time to take up other jobs. In 2010 when social media took off things began to change, a friend called me to have a look at other artists’ work on Instagram and that motivated me to start painting again. By that time I had the financial security necessary to give it a go once again through social media I was able to push my work to a wider audience as well as find a few galleries in New York and the UK to take me on.
This was the stepping stone I needed to reestablish my career as it gained the reach to attain investment from collectors. This is when things improved for me.
The challenges these days are very minimal compared to those difficult early days.
Independent& Image Art Space: During the pandemic, do you have some reflections on human desires, needs, fears? Are there any new painting plans?
Kojo Marfo: I enjoy the stillness and silence that solitude brings. Being home and just hanging out with myself through yoga and meditation have helped me develop a sincere friendship with myself. To be completely honest, I used to be very disappointed in myself for a lot of terrible decisions I’ve made in the past.
I have embraced being rationally hopeful. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the situation we are in is genuinely dark, but I also acknowledge that there are so many signposts leading up and out. I acknowledge that things are likely to get worse but there are contexts in which things are beginning to get better. I’ve also realized that I actually try to look at both sides and thrive better when I manage my expectations. I also just learned that I am a problem solver and a quick thinker.
Yes, I have new paintings which I will be showcasing after this pandemic.