Shiri Achu, an all in all profound and vibrant artist reverberated the exceptionally soulful sceneries of African culture.
The UWI Regional Headquarters opened their doors on Friday, August 25, 2017, for the opening reception of the 38InPrint: Jamaica art exhibition presented by artist Shiri Achu. The exhibition featured 38 signed limited edition prints that each individualised an aspect of Africa's culture.
A mother carrying her baby on her back, Baforchu men celebrating in their traditional prints, a little girl climbing a tree, a female elder making 'achu', a mother breastfeeding, costumes at the carnival, — these are the enchanting views that Shiri Achu epitomised in her artistic creations.
Her paintings dance to their own beat of the drum and move to the rhythm of life. Even when the subjects in her paintings are in an upright standing position, her brushstrokes help to elevate the mind, resulting in an unimaginable movement throughout the paintings.
Shiri's exhibition featured paintings from her four galleries, Heart&Soul&Africa, La Fiesta, The African Symbol and Poetry Art.
“A revitalisation of modern Africa and its heritage in print”
She recreated everyday life, broke it down into its simplest form and made it something beautiful. A riveting example of the passage of time and the visual movement of a freeze frame in real life. Experiencing these paintings in real life brings a new aspect of them. They appear moving right before your eyes, and as you view them, they visually appear as an animation, even though they are not. Her brushstrokes and use of colour really influence this feature of her work.
Prior to the gallery reception, teenAGE's Kesi Mortley sat down with Shiri and spoke about varying life changing moments and what made her the artist she is today.
Kesi Mortley: Tell us a little bit about your move from West Africa to London. How old were you? How was that cultural transformation for you? Everywhere on the internet, separate and apart from it being a part of your artist statement, it's always emphasised in articles. How much has this change helped direct your artistic path?
Shiri Achu: I was 9-years-old when my parents immigrated to the UK. The cultural shift was a lot. I remember everything looking different/being different... The general infrastructure, the foods etc. I remember being mocked at school, my hair style was very different, and the things we wore were different.I knew there was a marked difference between us and them – but I was not fazed by it at all. In fact, in one of my classes at primary school, I remember being bullied. There was a girl called Shola Ama who bullied me – she and her friends. They would laugh at my accent, my hair styles, what I wore etc. It was not nice but I was not hurt by it, though I had wished to have more friends. Nevertheless, I carried on and just did my own thing. Shola Ama did become quite well known on TV as a soap star and then later as a musician. Many years later, I met her at an event and asked her if she remembered bullying me. She was gracious and apologised for whatever hurt she may have caused and seemed to want to hang out with me during the event. I digressed a little, but the key thing is that I remember missing home. I remember that I was now the ripe age for tree climbing and I remember being upset when we moved to London that I won't have that opportunity to climb trees and be a young one in Cameroon.
KM: I realise based on your bio that you went to university to study architecture. Do you still practice as an architect or is it just strictly art? I kind of find it interested because well I used to do architecture, I did it for 1 year and then switched to art school. But what I realise is that most creative individuals that I've interacted with they either wanted to become an architect or they've tried it out, realised it wasn't for them and then just went straight to art.
SA: Yes I studied Architecture. I wanted to be an architect, inspired by my uncle in Cameroon. I knew I would always carry on with art so I wanted to go in to study Architecture, whilst always having art as my other passion. After I qualified as an Architect, I've practiced in London, Cameroon, and in the Washington DC. Right now, I've taken a little break to focus on art but hope to resume back to architecture and hopefully setting up a practice in Cameroon. That is my ultimate goal. Architects are really needed in Cameroon. I'll like to set up an architecture/art school in Cameroon also.
KM: Do you have any regrets where that is concerned? Have you ever wondered if you would've benefited more from art school instead of architecture?
SA: Hmm, actually no. I really focused when I did my GCSE and 'A' levels art and learned a lot when I study. I was always keen to learn the various techniques etc. and learned about past artists etc. I took my studies seriously. I definitely would have learned more and channeled my drive/motives more etc. or even taken a different path, who knows, but I do not regret having done Architecture. I don't regret spending all those years studying it. I knew I would always find myself back in art. In fact, some of my projects at Architecture school, I would paint the finished design. That really is how much I was convicted as an artist.
KM: I noticed that with some of your solo exhibitions you know you have 35InPrint, 36, 37 and now 38. How did that name come about? Is it that this exhibition is a recurring one where you add a new piece to it?
SA: Yes, that's exactly right. When I had my first solo exhibition called the 30th Act in 2009 there was a lot of interesting and wonderful comments about my original paintings but the main point and recurring point was that they loved it but they can't afford it etc. I thought about that for a few years and finally 5 years later I started the InPrint series of exhibitions, where I exhibit framed signed limited edition prints. So, I'm able to sell them at a much-reduced price and people are buying which is great. It was also a vision to be able to visit different parts of the world with these prints so that's what the Inprint series does. Taking Shiri Achu Art from London to Washington DC, to Australia and now Jamaica!! I'm very excited to be here in Kingston!!! 38InPrint: Jamaica.
KM: I realised you've been in a number of black cultured group exhibitions. What's the energy like for that kind of exhibition as opposed to the others? Especially since your work is so heavily rooted in black culture.
SA: The energy is great - energy somehow is also the reflection of what you give so as I always try to have a positive energy, people also give that back which is great! In specifics about black cultured group exhibitions – when I speak with people during these exhibitions, they say they are transposed back home or they are appreciative of the opportunity to know more and learn more about the various African cultures that I portray in my art. I am honored to have the opportunity to be able to do that, and this is also one of my main goals and objectives, for there are wonderful fascinating cultures/ culture groups in Africa, and not only the Maasai we all know and love. It would be wonderful for us all to know and appreciate as many of the others as we possibly can.
KM: At what point along your art path did you really consider yourself an artist? What work did you create, what experience did you have that made you feel like an artist? What was that defining moment for you?
SA: I was 18 I think, and I was just about to go to Architectural school after my A levels, and I saw an open call to submit some pieces of art to a gallery in Willesden, London, on the theme of Carnival. I love carnival, the colours, movement etc. I decided I'll do it. I worked on two pieces and submitted them. I was called a few weeks later that someone had bought one. I was elated!! That was my moment. The fact that someone who didn't know me, went to an exhibition, looked through a collection and choose my piece to buy was so exciting.
I often wonder if the person still has the painting. I hope so, and I hope they are still enjoying it even after so many years.
On Saturday, September 2 and 9 there will be a Shiri Achu workshop on the African Symbol. It will be from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at the Grosvenor Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica. The cost of this workshop is $6000 for individuals, $5000 per person for couples and $8000 for a parent with a child under 14. Students will be able to receive a discount once a school ID is presented. Materials are included in the cost and at the end of the workshop, you will have a completed art piece.
The closing party for 38InPrint: Jamaica will be on September 8. They will be doing the Raise the Roof raffle draw where a winner will be chosen to walk away with a signed, original Shiri Achu painting. As the name suggests, the proceeds will aid in raising the roof of a Sunday school back in Santa, Cameroon.
The raffle tickets cost US$7 and can be purchased at www.shiriachu.com.