A little while ago I sat down with Ghanaian artist & my good friend, Sarah Owusu. This was before I went on my blogging hiatus and truth be told I was somewhat hesitant about releasing this due to the time that had passed. However, re-reading it I knew it was a story that I needed to share. We talk about Identity, Heritage, Womanhood, her battle with self-love and how ultimately through her pain she was the was able to find her purpose. This is definitely one of my favourite interviews to date, it’s filled with gems and lessons we can all resonate with.
Q1: What inspires you & the work you create?
If I’m being honest it can literally stem from anything. People think that you know I have to go to an art gallery and see artists work and be like “wow” but inspiration can stem from personal situations like pain, which is what my Bells Palsy painting stemmed from. It can stem from just myself; in terms of who I am, my being, my blackness, my African-ness which you’ll also see in a lot of my work.
Q2: You studied psychology at university, was it difficult for you leaving this behind and pursuing a career as an artist?
Mmm, no it wasn’t difficult. I mean at first, once upon a time, I wanted to be, well I thought I wanted to be a clinical psychologist and so my parents had that in mind that that was what I was going to do. I was going to pursue my masters and then do a PhD, but then really looking into the career, sitting down I thought, that this definitely does not fit the description of what Sarah Owusu is *laughs*. Sarah is not meant for the office or to be told what to do- especially in the long term anyway and since I was a young child I’ve always drawn and painted and that’s always what’s made me happy.
As many times as I’ve tried to run away from art, it’s always come back to me somehow, especially when I’ve been able to touch people with my artwork and make them feel. That shows me that that must be what my purpose is. So Psychology is not something I’ve looked back on or even wondered ‘Oh my God I wonder how my life would be if…’ because I just don’t feel like it was part of my purpose, I feel like it was part of my journey and it’s definitely something I’ve been able to incorporate into my art but I don’t think its what would have made me as a person.
Q3: Your work is heavily influenced by your culture, however, we’re often met with a single narrative when it comes to stories of Africa. Depicting the continent as barren, and riddled with poverty, how do your pieces work to inform this single narrative and what are your thoughts on this?
I’m really happy you asked me this question because this is something which we’re faced with every single day and unfortunately, the stories that the media often depicts are mostly what the world has to base their views and opinions on the whole of Africa.
As someone who is very proud of their heritage, I always like to show light in my work because “light” is something that is very rarely associated with Africa. I want everyone who follows my work and my journey to see, whether they’re African or not to feel a piece of Africa within them.
“If you look at Africa as a continent we have almost everything. […] we’re portrayed in very nasty ways and it’s something that I’d like to change.”
weeping Africa- 2016
I may often touch upon the topics you mentioned with pieces like weeping Africa where I have personified Africa and given it an eye and the reason behind this piece and why I’ve called it Weeping Africa is because if you look at Africa as a continent we have almost everything. In fact, the whole world runs off the resources on our continent, we’re constantly being drained of our resources and portrayed in very nasty ways and it’s something that I’d like to change.
I’d like people to know that we do have talent, we do have lots of people who are very intelligent from there and that we are not all poor.
I mean if you look at the work ethic of an African woman for example – I think every African woman deserves a gold medal but these are stories or things that will never ever be mentioned in the media.
I think that as an African it’s my duty to show the world, to be an example of what an African is and not to shy away from my heritage.
Hence the [term] “Owusuism” and why I refer to my work as “Owusuism” because to me that’s part of my identity and I wanted to be very clear that I am an African.
“It taught me to trust God in the face of everything that I go through so that was definitely one of my biggest lessons.”
Q4: In 2012 you contracted Bells Palsy. How did this experience affect the relationship with yourself and your work as an artist?
Wow, so in 2012 when I contracted Bells Palsy- half of my face and neck was left completely paralysed which left my face distorted. Just to give you an idea I would be on my way to my hospital appointment and a stranger would smile at me and when I would smile back half my face would be pushed to the other side so this would often scare them when they would look at me and just the reaction alone killed my self-confidence.
At that time I was about 21 I believe and if I’m being honest with myself I was very focused on my outward appearance, but in this moment when my looks were completely taken away from me, it was then that I really had to love myself from within.
So I would have to talk to myself in the mirror, tell myself every single day that I was beautiful even though I didn’t feel it and eventually I started to believe it.
On her Artwork…
“In the moment when I was going through it, I would ask God oh why am I going through this, why am I going through this?”
One day I had a really really strong urge to just paint, so I went and bought two split canvases before I did this painting I prayed. I said, God I’m feeling really frustrated right now, but I don’t know what I’m going to paint but I pray that whatever comes on this canvas touches at least one person.
So I did the painting, I kept the painting to myself for a while, one day I decided to share this painting on my social media and the reaction, once I shared my testimony was really really overwhelming.
Up until now I still don’t understand why I did this painting, but then a year or so later I received an email from a girl who that morning before had woken up and half of her face was paralysed and in that moment I remember just breaking down and thanking God because it was in that moment that it clicked and made sense as to what my purpose was.
It showed me that God used me, although it was a difficult time for me, I was strong enough to go through what I did to pass that strength onto someone else. I thought, if I’m able to impact someone else’s life in this way then it must be part of my calling.
I started to take my art more seriously and I would say most importantly [it] taught me that as a woman it’s very important to have substance and to love yourself from within. Because you can look good on the outside but if what comes out is not beautiful then overall as a person it doesn’t make you beautiful.
In the moment when I was going through it, I would ask God oh why am I going through this, why am I going through this?
But if I could change anything about my life that definitely wouldn’t be one of the things I would change. That’s something that I would keep because it really humbled me and helped me become the woman that I am today.
“As women, we should question ourselves and ask ourselves what do we do? Are we women of substance? Are we living in our purpose?”
Q5. One of my favourite paintings of yours has to be “INNER POWER” can you take us through some of the inspiration behind this piece?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m all for female empowerment and I often feel that women feel like they can’t have it all but I want every young girl and woman to know they can.
I know it sounds quite cheesy *laughs* but I painted this piece for women to see exactly where a woman belongs – on top of the world. When I say on top of the world, this doesn’t mean that there is only 1 spot but that there are spots for all of us to succeed in anything we’re passionate and work hard towards. That God has a purpose for everyone.
I think that now there are a lot more girl bosses, women who know what they want to do with themselves and women who aren’t just sitting around waiting for handouts or waiting to marry someone who’s rich and just be at home.
I believe that as a woman its very important to bring something to the table as well- often women speak about how a man should be but as women, we should question ourselves and ask ourselves what do we do? Are we women of substance? Are we living in our purpose?
So it’s about women not putting a limit to what they want to do or caring about the opinions of others and just going for it.
Q6: What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say, do not care about the opinion of others and to do what feels right for you. Because had I not cared about the opinions of others I probably wouldn’t have done a psychology degree and I would have always been pursuing art, so to just do what feels right in your heart- within reason! *laughs*.
Q7: What can we expect next from you?
I don’t want to give away too much, but I would definitely say collaborations and a lot more artwork. For a while, I’ve been focusing on clothes but I’m definitely getting back into how I started- so the original artworks and more exhibitions and collaborations.
More on Sarah and her at work can be found at http://owusuism.com/
Love & Light,