Sami Bentil, the Pan-Africanist and traditionalist painter of international repute
Sami Bentil popularly known as "Mr Conspirator" is an acclaimed and leading Pan-Africanist artist who combines traditional Ghanaian culture to produce a wonderful artistic work. He is a prestigious painter whose work has received great recognition and acclaim in Ghana and internationally. Sami is noted for his use of Pointilism and inspiration by Surrealism in his work. He is very much color blind but paint out of his heart with deepest conviction blending the history of his native Ghana with his passionate vision of world peace.
The seedlings of Sami's deeply rooted artistic philosophy were planted in his childhood. As a young boy growing up during Ghana's struggle for and acquisition of independence, Sami watched this human drama unfold on the streets of his home town, Ghana's capital city, Accra. With a keen eye, a sensitive heart and a gifted hand, Sami cultivated a tremendous ability to draw vivid pictures of people.
"Emergence" by Sami Bentil
Another childhood experience also had a profound impact on the talented and perceptive young boy. There was magnificent mural in the entryway of Accra's main community center, painted by the late Kofi Antubam, one of Ghana's great art masters. The mural is based on the Biblical quotation, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is that brothers dwell together in unity."
This portrayal of harmony became Sami's most meaningful image and source of artistic inspiration. However, Sami was not sure of his artistic potential until he got confirmation about his life's purpose when one high priest told him "this is your destiny. The only trouble you will get is if you do not follow it".
Whilst there, Sami had the great privilege of studying under the iconic and Ghana`s pioneer artist Kofi Antubam, who taught him that art can be a tool for bringing the people of the world together in harmony. Sami has held to this philosophy ever since.
As the son of a United Nations diplomat, Sami had the privilege of visiting the United States during two summers. He spent a great deal of time in museums and art galleries in New York and other major metropolitan areas, to broaden his vision and knowledge of the arts. This experience provided an effective backdrop for his subsequent studies in graphic design at the University of Science and Technology (now Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, KNUST-Kumasi) in Ghana, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
On his artistic perfection Bentil said he has been developing his technique and message for a long time. In Ghana, he spent six years as an illustrator and photographer. He sums up that experience as, "I spent six years honing my eye for detail, my skills. I have the working knowledge of dimensions, space. I learnt some incredible information about African architecture". Key to that is the shape that features heavily in Bentil's art.
"Over 80 per cent of the traditional houses are circles, the most ideal for stormy conditions. In storms there are no walls to push. There are no corners for rodents, pests to hide in," Bentil observed.
Bentil has very strong views about the value of African art. "The beauty of African art is that it is timeless," Bentil said. "In the last 10 to 15 years African art has got some positives. They are recognising the artists. You can't disregard us anymore. The more our people collect our art it will slowly begin to help ourselves step out of the Western shadow that put a straight-jacket on us".
"They call us primitive, but I feel our lives are more in harmony with nature ... I feel our culture, given a chance, has the solution for what is happening today," Bentil said.
Sami's work has received great recognition and acclaim in Ghana, as well as in other parts of the world.
One of his earliest paintings, commissioned by the Ghanaian government to celebrate the country's Silver Jubilee, is on permanent display at the Museum of Ghana. His work has been exhibited in the United States, England, Switzerland, and Germany and is widely collected in Europe, West Africa, and North America. His painting Everlasting is on the cover of Volume 15, Issue 1 of The Art Book.
On the fact that he is a color blind and could still pant, when people as Sami Bentil he replies "Surely sensitivity to colour is essential to art, people say, staring at me. All I can say is that I know that what is seen as a handicap has allowed me to develop and evolve a style and expression unique to me. I suppose it is like a blind man with a stick. I learnt to feel the colours instead of seeing them. I almost find it hard to talk about. Mine is the doing, not the seeing or knowing. I know what you see as blue inspires me. I know when I mix a blue or red, it will be called purple, but I don't know, and in some ways I don't care. I just do what I what I like and go with the feel of it.
Meanwhile, independently of my eyes and what they see, the world has begun to see African contemporary art in a completely different during the last 20 years, and in some ways it is almost impossible to give it the label "African". Art is art, whether from Atlanta, Accra or Aberdeen. We need to be judged on the quality and creativity of our work, and that includes our cultural heritage. And yet, in the same breath, I can only say that if we Ghanaians do not celebrate and show our art on international stages, no one else will."
Human race by Sami Bentil
Sami Bentil and his artist wife, Annetta Vickers-Bentil who co-owned Jah’z Art Private Gallery are members of a newly formed organization of Black art galleries in St. Louis, Missouri. The organization is the Alliance of Black Art Galleries, consisting of eight art galleries with a shared focus of exhibiting culturally relevant art and supporting artists whose career aspirations would benefit from broader exposure in galleries.
Organizers of the Alliance of Black Art Galleries pictured. STANDING: Robert A. Powell, Solomon Thurman, Patricia Smith Thurman, Freida L. Wheaton, Annetta Vickers-Bentil, Sami Bentil, and Robert A. Ketchens SEATED: Carlton Mitchell, Lois D. Ingrum, Dail Chambers, and William Burton, Jr.
Still, he points out that "a lot of Ghanian art is being bought by foreigners. Many of the greatest expressions of our lives ended up in foreign hands," Bentil said, pointing to the disparate prices for African and European art.
Maskitos by Sami Bentil
Sami bentil and some admirers of his art work
Sami Bentil and his colleagues in Achimota school Cadet
Sami Bentil and Pinnock Casely-Hayford performing at Kumasi Polytechnic in 1974. [Photo courtesy of Pinnock Casely-Hayford.]