Friday, December 13, 2013

OKU AMPOFO: RENOWNED PHSICIAN AND PIONEER PAN-AFRICANIST CUM TRADITIONALIST SCULPTOR WHOSE SCULPTOR SITS IN THE AFRICA ROOM OF THE KENNEDY CENTER IN WASHINGTON

Dr. Oku Ampofo (1908-1998) is a world acclaimed sculptor and renowned allopathic medical practitioner from Ghana. In fact, the man excelled in both sculptural arts and medical practice so much that it is difficult to place him in one field of his life and leave the other. Another truth about this man is that he was one of the Ghana`s foremost Pan-Africanist cultural advocate who was a member of the council put together to to ensure the creation of the Institute of African Studies faculty at the University of Ghana. Dr Oku Ampofo could be described as a man of many parts with his sterling career spanning from Medicine, Sculpture and Cultural Studies.
Dr Oku Ampofo

Dr Ampofo was not only a physician, a pioneer in the use of herbal medicine and founder of the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine, but also an actor and sculptor. In the seminal work "Reclaiming the Human Sciences and Humanities Through African ..., Volume 1" edited by Helen Lauer and Kofi Anyidoho, the two authors quoted Professor Kwasi Yankah, the celebrated Ghanaian Linguist about Dr Oku Ampofo`s influence in creation of Center for Scientific Research Into Plant Medicine (CRSPM ) "In 1975 he established the Center for Scientific Research Into Plant Medicine in Mampong Akwapim, which has collaborative links with  several reputable scientific institutions and industries world wide, and which was designated in 1985 by the World Health Organization as a collaborating center for Traditional Medicine- the first in Africa."
HEAD OF AN AFRICAN PRINCESS
 (1964)
Original Dimensions:
10" x 8" x 4"
Original Materials:
Queen Ebony
(This head portrays a lot of the canons of beauty which comely women possess in society. The long neck, the high forehead and stately head are some of the marks of beauty in Ghanaian society. It does appear to visitors that the figure was originally meant to represent the sculptor's wife, Nana Oye)

 Dr Oku Ampofo`s work was recognized by the government which joined and today is fully Government of Ghana`s pioneer Center for production and manufacturing of indigenous medicine. Though this article is basically about Dr Ampofo`s artistic contribution to the development and evolution of African sculptural art as one of the pioneers of the Africa`s Sculptural artist, it must be noted that it was Dr Ampofo`s desire to use traditional plant medicine to treat his people who could not afford to pay him his their medical bills that aroused the interest in Dr Ampofo to commence creating and selling wood sculptures to finance his medical practice. It begun as a hobby during his medical student days in Edinburgh, his sculpture flourished in Ghana and he soon achieved international fame. His works, executed in multi-coloured hard woods or cement and terrazzo, display not only unusual artistic beauty but true understanding of the medium used. They also portray cultural and socio-religious aspects of the Ghanaian way of life.
At the Shrine - Side ViewAt the Shrine - Front View
AT THE SHRINE 
(1955)
(The sculpture depicts a worshipper before a god in the mood of submissiveness, humility, obedience and attentiveness which are some of the great qualities exhibited in Akan traditional religion)

According his life long collaborator and protege Diane Robertson Winn "Dr Ampofo started his carved work from African cedar, ebony and an exotic wood called afzelia. Dr Ampofo exhibited in Senegal, Nigeria, England, United States of America, Israel, Brazil, and Romania. He influenced many contemporary Ghanaian artists, painters, sculptors and ceramists alike.
DAUGHTER OF THE EARTH 
(1946)
Original Dimensions:
36" x 12" x 10"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(This piece represents the characteristic shyness of the village folk in Ghana. The gentle twist of her head dropping on her right shoulder, her sleepy eyes and her attempt to cover herself with her arms are meant to accentuate the pattern of her shyness. This is in contrast with women of the Western World who believe in exhibitionism and practice it.)

It must be emphasized that the Ghanaian Ewe composer, Ephraim Amu and his Nigerian counterpart, Fela Sowande, have sought an artistic renascence, but began well before the onset of the second World War and appearance of Africa`s political independence.
portrait head of an old man
PORTRAIT HEAD OF AN OLD MAN - 1963
(1963)
Original Dimensions:
18" x 4.25" x 9"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(The portrait head of an old school teacher and a friend, Dr Ephraim Amu. Note the base of the figure which is shaped in the form of a Cross because of the suffering and hardships he went through as a nationalist.)

Robert W. July in his book "An African Voice: The Role of the Humanities in African Independence," posits "There have been early innovators in fine art as well, the Nigerian, Ben Enwonwu, for example. None, however, has produced a body of work and career that better exemplifies the process than Oku Ampofo, the sculptor and physician from Ghanaian town of Mampong."
Asase Due
ASASE DUE 
(Woe to You, 
Mother Earth)
(1965)
Original Dimensions:
6' x 18" x 12"
Original Materials:
Afzelia
(Here again "Mother Earth" is typified in a state of mourning with her hands over her head, in typical Ghanaian fashion, deploring political assassinations, intrigues and all forms of violence. The original of this piece is in the Africa Room of the Kennedy Centre, Washington, DC. (shown above) and was inspired by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy)

Ampofo as an instigator and innovator in sculptural art produced one of the art best works during his lifetime.
"One of Ampofo's sculptures, of a native woman mourning in the wake of Kennedy's assassination in 1964, sits in the Africa Room of the Kennedy Center in Washington," said Winn, who maintains a foundation in the physician's honor.

He was born in 1908 in Mampong-Akuapim and was christened Edward Oku Ampofo.  His father was a divisional Akuapim chief known as Kwasi Ampofo and his mother was Madam Akua Adwo. He had two brothers one called Nyamekye Ampofo Quashie and another called Kwesi Oku Asamoah.
Dr Ampofo started his basic school at Basel Missionary school at Mampong-Akuapim. After his completion Ampofo proceeded to prestigious Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast where he had his form 1 to form five education between 1926-1929. From Mfantsipim, Ampofo moved to prestigious Achimota University College in Accra from 1930 to 1932.
Madonna
AFRICAN MADONNA AND CHILD
(1955)
Original Dimensions:
37" x 11" x 7.5"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(The sculpture is dedicated to the birth of a daughter who is represented as AKUABA, the Akan doll, in the form of a cross, a child being regarded as the mother's cross.)

 It was at Achimota that Dr Ampofo met South African, anthropologist and sculptural art professor, H. V. Meyerowitz who had come to Gold Coast to teach art at Achimota college and whose exertion bestirred and encouraged a whole generation of Ghanaian artists and craftmen. After his memorable studies in Achimota, Dr Ampofo earned a scholarship to study medicine at the Edinburgh University and Royal College of Edinburgh and Glasgow - 1933-1939. Ampofo who was an exceptionally intelligent student qualified as doctor in 1939 with the diplomas, L.R.C.P. (EDIN), L.R.C.S. (EDIN), L.R.F.P. & S. (GLAS). In 1940 (March to July), he had his Post-Graduate studies in Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Puberty
PUBERTY
(1955)
Original Dimensions:
40" x 7" x 6"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(The sculpture is based on the Akan Proverb: "It is only fashionable for a young Akan girl with plumpy upright breasts to hold them when she is running, but not that they will fall down or drop." In other words, the breasts of a young Akan girl or woman symbolize life to the nation. She recreates and nourishes the young ones who are successors of the ancestors, the owners of the land. The breasts are therefore one of the greatest assets of the young Akan woman even as children are the greatest assets of a nation.)

Whilst in England Ampofo did not neglect his longstanding love for arts. He made regular visits to museums and an attendance at lectures dealing particularly with traditional Arts of Africa. When at one time Ampofo`s bursary was cancelled and was on the  verge of being sent home, he got enrolled as a sculptor in Edinburgh. It was here he concentrated much of his energies until the bursary crisis came to pass and he completed his medical education successfully. After concluded his stay in Europe with a continental tour of the great collection of African art, including Tervuren, the British Museum, and the Musée de l'Homme.
The Possessed
THE POSSESSED
(1959)
Original Dimensions:
22" x 8" x 7"
Original Materials:
Queen Ebony
(Spirit possession is a common phenomenon in the traditional, spiritual or religious life of the people of Ghana. This sculpture portrays a type I saw in a shrine. It represents a girl who was medium and when possessed by a Baule god during consultation spoke in Baule Language, which was translated into Twi by a man of Baule extraction. Under normal circumstances she did not speak or understand the language. At the precise time of possession, her head was jerked backwards, the face was uplifted and was grim, the neck muscles were thrown into strong irregular contractions and the whole body and limbs assumed a flexed rigid posture. This ritual could go on for any length of time and when she had completed the diagnosis and prescribed treatment, her body quickly relaxed into normality. The interesting thing was that she was always unaware of the whole event.)

On coming home, he established an art studio as well as clinic; moreover, he took an immediate and active interest in the work of others, and bent his effort towards their encouragement. His medical practice caused him to travel the length and breath of the country. This brought him into direct contact with various facets of changing social and economic conditions caused by modernisation leading to the end of traditional way of life.
DANSINKRAN (1943)
Original Dimensions:
20" x 12" x 12"
Original Materials:
Flos Regina (Queen of Flowers)
(This piece of sculpture was inspired after a visit to Kumase. Dansinkran is a kind of indigenous or traditional hairstyle of an Asante woman. It is regarded as particularly noble. A short cropped hair with sharp trimmed edges at the point of the neck and the head results in a broad high forehead which is regarded as a sign of beauty. This is supported by an inclined long neck which is regarded as a sign of beauty among the Akan.)

When Meyerowitz died in 1948, Ampofo became chief proselytizer for the arts in Gold Coast. He circulated among the schools, looking for new talents like his predecessor Meyerowitz has done at Achimota by bringing traditional craftmen to the schools and suggesting new uses for the old craft. Ampofo talked with the other practicing artists who were also searching for renascence in art. Gradually he brought together a group representing a number of different art forms. They were J. C. Okyere, the painter, John Cobblah in ceramics, the weaver E. A. Asare, F. A. Gyampo, a painter and sculptor, as well as many others.
Together with this group he had an exhibition in Accra dubbed "New African Art," the first presentation of its kind in the country. It was an instant success and this led to two quick successive ones in 1946 and 1948. In 1950, Ampofo and his chief collaborators formed the Gold Coast Art Society, with assistance from the British Council. When the Gold Coast became independent nation of Ghana, the society`s name was converted to the Ghana Arts Council, with Ampofo as its first vice-president.
A POET OF THE DRUMS
(1965) Odum
Original Dimensions:
8' x 18" x 12"
Original Materials:
Odum
(The sculpture is a portrayal of Drum Language through gestures.  The Dancer is the interpretor and poet of the Akan Concept of the Universe.  The facial expression is meant to speak.  Note the position of the left hand - "Ade pa nyinaa fi wim" - asking God, the giver of all things, to fill it.)

Some of the founders of the Art Council came to be known in Ghanaian arts circles as "Akwapim Six. They were Okyere, Asare, Gyampo, and Cobblah along with a sculptor A. A. Opoku, the painter J. D. Okae and Ampofo himself. Ampofo was deeply involved in his medical practice at Mampong as he was but one of the two physicians resident in the whole Akwapim. He however, find ways to get back to do his sculptural work with his Akwapim Six. Together the planned and utilized modern methodology and strategies to design novel artistic works that were unknown in Ghana. Ampofo`s home in Akwapim became a center of activities for the Akwapim Six and for others who who were attracted by artistic work coming from the abode.
A foundation has been created in his memory as a result of his onerous contribution to the art in Ghana and the world at large. THE OKU AMPOFO FOUNDATION according to its policy statement "will support community development projects to benefit the people of Ghana and, in particular, Dr Ampofo's hometown, Mampong-Akwapim.
portrait_head_of_a_young_woman
PORTRAIT HEAD OF A YOUNG WOMAN
(1968)
Original Dimensions:
33" x 4" x  5"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(This special hairstyle is a form of ODUKU which is fashioned by the females of the coast dwellers of Ghana, especially among the the Fantes, Gas and Ga-Dangmes. There is no special occasion on which one cannot see a kind of this type of adornment. But they are used in Fanteland on girls who have completed their puberty rites, and especially, on the elderly who display their wealth on special occasions. These occasions include reverence to the dead during final funeral rites.)

The Foundation will also support research into selected plant medicines needed to treat critical diseases in Ghana, West Africa and the world. The first one to be researched is a very effective anti-malarial plant which is being developed into a drug, which is desperately needed throughout the African continent.  
The Foundation believes that Dr Oku Ampofo's artistic legacy, as well as his healing legacy, needs to be remembered and continued.
HIGHLIFE MOOD 
(1964)
Original Dimensions:
36" x 10" x 8"
Original Materials:
Queen Ebony
(By 1964 Highlife had become almost the primus inter pares of the popular dances of the Modern State of Ghana. There have been a number of Variations of this dance. The piece, a reflection of Ghana, was carved to represent the spirit in which Ghanaians were when the announcement of modern statehood and national independence of the Gold Coast was celebrated or accepted in 1957. The dance epitomized the mirth and the "largeness of spirit" in modern Ghana.)

It is the intention of the Ampofo Foundation to prepare a full-color coffee-table book including photographs and descriptions of his sculptures. The proceeds from the sale of the book will be used by the Foundation to establish a museum displaying Dr Ampofo's work, and to encourage the work of young and upcoming sculptors inspired by his art."
A series of reproductions of Dr Ampofo's sculptures are also being created and offered for sale.
Dr Ampofo was not only a physician, a pioneer in the use of herbal medicine and founder of the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine, but also an actor and sculptor.  Begun as a hobby during his medical student days in Edinburgh, his sculpture flourished in Ghana and he soon achieved international fame. His works, executed in multi-coloured hard woods or cement and terrazo, display not only unusual artistic beauty but true understanding of the medium used. They also portray cultural and socio-religious aspects of the Ghanaian way of life.
AGBADZA
(1962)
Original Dimensions:
87" x 24" x 11"
Original Materials:
Cement and red and white terrazzo
(A popular Ewe dance form. It consists of soft, subtle, as well as vigorous body movements. It highlights the contours of the body and exercises them. Expressed in the figure is the fitness requisite for those who dance 'agbadza.'
Note the firm nature of the figure. Many forms of the dance have been revived in Ghana and they are now national in character)

Dr Ampofo exhibited in Senegal, Nigeria, England, United States of America, Israel, Brazil, and Romania. He influenced many contemporary Ghanaian artists, painters, sculptors and ceramists alike.
The following are some publications and work of Dr Oku Ampofo
Publications: by Ampofo and Dr G.M. Findlay, Tropical Medicine Consultant, London:
(i) 1950 (a) "AUREOMYCIN in the treatment of Yaws and Tropical Ulcer in Africa" published in NATURE 165, pp. 398, etc.
(ii) 1950 (b): "TROPICAL (PHAGAEDENIA) Ulcer treated by AUREOMYCIN (Plus Laboratory Demonstration)" - Published in the TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 44, pp. 7, etc.
(iii) 1950 (c): ORAL AUREOMYCIN in the treatment of Tropical Ulcers and CANCRUM ORIS" - published in TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 44, pp. 307, etc.
(iv) 1950 (d): "The treatment of Yaws by AUREOMYCIN" published in TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 44, pp. 311, etc.
(v) 1950 (e): "Choroamphenicol in the treatment of Yaws and Tropical Ulcer" - published in TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 44, pp. 315, etc.
(vi) 1952: "Treatment of Tropical Ulcer with Terramycin Ointment" published in TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 46, pp. 650, etc.
1960-1972: Senior Medical Officer, Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital.
1962: Appointed part-time research worker in Plant Medicine at University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. Awarded Grand Medal (G.M.) by Ghana Government.
1969-1972: Chairman, Arts Council of Ghana.
1965-1974: Part-time research worker in Plant Medicine with Dr Hartwell, Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD. USA
Song of Life
THE SONG OF LIFE
(1953)
Original Dimensions:
6' x 18" x 12"
Original Materials:
African Cedar
(This is how Dr Alfred Quarcoo describes this piece:
In this sculpture the suggestion is made that what is necessary in life is self-denial and resignation to God after one has done all one could do in any field of endeavour to achieve specific desires and goals. The sculptor regards the piece as his plastic expression of a mystic view of life. Another vivid picture it portrays is psychological and sociological. For one to achieve, enjoy and appreciate love in the culture of his people, one needs to be receptive and resigned and so cooperate with nature.
Note the particular resigning drop of the head and the surrendering posture of the raised arms. Viewed holistically, the figure suggests the symbolism of one overcome with passionate love or particularly at a point where one has completely surrendered. Note the relaxed posture and limbs.)

1973: Appointed Director of Centre for Scientific Research Into Plant Medicine, Mampong, by Ghana Government; Advisor to Ghana Traditional and Psychic Healers Association.
1973-1977: Chairman, Ghana Museums and Monuments Board
1976: Degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) Conferred by University of Ghana, Legion.
1976: Appointed consultant in African Traditional Medicine by the World Health Organization.
1987-? Consultant, Centre for Scientific Research Into Plant Medicine, Mampong, Akwapim.
1990: March; Special ECRAG Laureate AWARD for Excellence in Sculpture.
© Copyright 2003-2013 The Oku Ampofo Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
BUST OF A YOUNG GIRL
(1970)
Original Dimensions:
38.5" x 5" x 8.5"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(The slenderness of this piece is symbolic of a young girl. Mothers usually take pride in giving their daughters special hairstyles to highlight their beauty. The long ridged neck, often accentuated with white clay or powder, is a sign of beauty and dignity.)

Three Women
STUDY OF 
THREE MARKET WOMEN
(1958)
Original Dimensions:
86" x 15" x 14"
(Simple country folk going to market and carrying three essentials for living -  water, food and palm wine. These can be seen at the Ambassador Hotel (Movenpick), Accra. 
They are the property of the Arts Council to whom they were donated after an exhibition at the Ambassador Hotel in 1960.

Malinke Girl
STUDY OF A MALINKE GIRL
(1959)
Original Dimensions:
27" x 14" x 6"
Original Materials:
King or Black Ebony
(This was the impression I got of a Malinke girl selling on a market day in Conakry in Guinea when I visited the country in 1959. Notice the air of expectancy on the face looking for a prospective customer.)

portrait of an elder
PORTRAIT OF AN ELDER
(1964)
Original Dimensions:
36" x 8" x 6"
Original Materials:
Manicara
portrait of an elder
A study of an elder in the countryside in pensive mood. This sculpture is a special construction with a long neck "craned" forward to the final stage of man on earth.

Prophet of the Sky God
PROPHET OF THE SKY GOD
(1955)
Original Dimensions:
71" x 11" x 8"
Original Materials:
Red Cement and Red Terrazzo
(A familiar posture adopted by Mohammedans when praying. The bent knees, the elongated trunk and upward thrust of the hands, all go to show anxiety to reach God who is supposed to live in the sky. The original is at the Institute of African Studies, Legon.)

Submit
THE BOY KUMANSENU
(1952)
Original Dimensions:
20" x 11" x 9"
Original Materials:
Queen Ebony
(This is the bust of a leading star in a film of the same title. A village boy leaves his village and goes to a city in search of adventures. There, he finds out that in contrast, the human relationship is impersonal and individualistic. He becomes neurotic and confused, as portrayed in his face. He falls into bad company and is arrested by the police, sent to court and given to a doctor's family for adoption as he is under age. My wife and I took part as film stars in this dramatic first feature film of Ghana.)

PRIMORDIAL INSTINCT
(1964)
Original Dimensions:
38.5" x 8" x 6"
Original Materials:
Queen Ebony
This sculpture depicts female instinct for a child. In Ghanaian society childbirth is regarded as the first of God's blessings by most women. This sculpture tries to illustrate this strong desire by the attachment of a yet unborn child to the 'bosom' of its mother. It emphasizes the pre-eminence of breast milk as the most suitable and essential diet for a child. Other substitutes are last resorts. Recent sociological research appears to confirm that breast milk is essential for all round emotional adjustment. The figure concretizes an abstract Ghanaian idea - namely, the love that must be the lot of a child born into society

struggle_with_tragedy
STRUGGLE WITH TRAGEDY
(1955)
Original Dimensions: 69" x 9" x 10"
In this kind of sculpture, as in all cement and terrazzo works, I build up the kind of figure I want in stages around iron and wire armatures placed horizontally on the ground. When the basic structure is built, the figure is raised to stand, often vertically, or as it will be required to pose when wholly completed. The structure receives installments of cement, concrete and terrazzo chips. 
In this figure, the raised arms around its head region is traditionally indicative of sorrow or deprivation, misery or despondency. It is normally a taboo for anybody to be in that posture where an arm or both arms are raised above the head or even both palms clasped over one's head. Anyone who under ordinary circumstances assumes this posture provides a spiritual magnetic field for evil omen. The struggle with tragedy is portrayed in the weakness in the limbs, his agape mouth, melancholic and disturbed disposition. This piece is meant to be symbolic of a Ghanaian belief suggesting that it is essential for people to struggle out of difficulties rather than to submit to, or be ridden over by them. As long as God exists, there is hope for man, a belief which stresses man's oneness with God.
Photo-source:http://ampofotrust.org/the_gallery_6.htm

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