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Conversation with the artist, Thursday, March 16, 2023 

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Mathilde Le Coz - Can you introduce yourself? When did you start painting?


Awanle Ayiboro - My name is Awanle Ayiboro Hawa. I was born and raised in Accra,Ghana, my parents are from Northern part of Ghana. I knew I could paint from a very young but because of my background - a very conservative family - my parents had this idea of what they wanted me to become, and as child, I had to do what they wanted of me.However, I had my own inspirations, dreams, goals and desires. At the age of 18, I got a job in a hotel as a receptionist; during that period work was tedious - this is when I started painting. I watched tutorials going back to the basics of drawing and painting. One day, a man approached me at the workplace asking what I would in the next  5 years. I had never thought about that and started questioning myself. I then decided to quit my job and focus on painting as a career. In my neighbourhood there is this man called Mozay, he helped a lot of artists further their art education, I went to him, spoke to him and he took me in.This was in 2019, he showed me how to mix colors, and the dos and don’ts with paint - That’s when life started for me as an artist.


MLC - Can you tell me a bit more about this new body of work? What are you exploring in this new series?


AA - I based this new body of work on an ongoing research on child marriage and forced marriages.The victims of forced marriage were once children.They had inspirations to become somebody but their dreams were stolen from them, the chance to grow up with their siblings was cut off.With these works, I wanted to reappropriate their story. It all stems from a project titled “The life we never lived” where I wanted to tell the story of these children who never got to become who they wanted to be. For example, In my research I met Zeinab, she was 11 and in elementary school when she was told by her parents to take to a 30-year-old man as her husband. I met her when she was 22 and I decided to portray her as an 11-year-old child in a school uniform.


MLC - When visiting your studio I remember seeing press clippings taped on your walls relating to women’s rights and fights around the globe. I believe I can say that you are politically committed and a fervent feminist - as such: how do you see your role as an artist in society? 


AA - I see myself as a spokesperson, I am not just a creative.The idea behind my paintings and being an artist is to play a role in the development of society. I want to be a voice for these women because their stories aren’t being heard and taken seriously. Child marriage and force marriage is a universal issue and I believe It is known but  little attention is being heightened on it whereas it keeps expanding like in Rwanda, Malaysia, Niger, South Asia and Nigeria. In Nigeria for example, in 2014 a group of young women were kidnapped by “Boko Haram” because they were not supposed to be in school, they were supposed to be at home as housewives and play no role in society.This is something I am against, as an artist I want change, I want to make a difference for myself as well as for other women.


MLC - In a way you also want to set an example, saying yes it’s possible to be who you want to be, to be independent, and to follow your dreams...


AA - I want them to see me as hope. If I can do it, they can also do it. It is not only about painting, I am also going against boundaries, and misconceptions about what a woman should be in society. I don’t want to be solely an artist in the studio, I want to be out there and help out as much as I can.



MLC - Now I would like you to explain how you work, what process you go through when painting? How do you choose your subjects? Do you always know them, are they real people? 


AA - My paintings are about true stories of child marriage, they tell the story of real people, and I am influenced by my own experience as well.To reappropriate their story I make young kids pose for me, siblings for example, or I ask friends to take pictures of their younger siblings in the postures I want. Before moving to the canvas, I like to sketch the composition on my I Pad.


MLC - Can we focus in particular on a couple of works.  What is happening in “The Playground” , what are they holding? Can you tell us more about “The Mother”?


AA - The Idea for “The Playground” was taken from a girl I met during my research. Aisha was at the age of 11 at a playground playing with her sister when she was called inside their home: this is when she was given to a man. She was playing, vulnerable and naïve, and in this case, she was literally taken away from the playground to the house.This was accompanied by a ritual, an exchange of goods: where I come from when a man show interest in marriage, he gives out sweet “goro”to the family. As I child I liked sweets, in the painting “the playground”they have no idea what the sweet represents because of how young and naïve they are… this is an exchange for freedom. With the sign at the background of the painting I intentionally cut part of it out. The full words is  “Watch children”.

As parent, your duty is to support and  take care of your children. The parents of this victim believe they are doing right by giving out their kids off to married , they are decide for them instead of letting them decide what they want to do with their life. And once you are given out to marriage, life stops, you become a housewife, and your dreams and inspirations are cut off.

As for “The Mother” when you take a close look at the painting, behind the building there is a written “Montessori” which is a school. In this painting, I am rewriting the narrative of a girl I met during my research who was taken from her school ground to marry .In this painting, instead of being given out for marriage, her mother is escorting her back from school to the house . Most times, the parent that gives out the child is the mother and in this painting I wanted to change the narrative.


MLC - What do you look for in your work?


AA - Change, change, that’s what I look for. I hope to make a change with my work.When I approach a canvas, this is the first thing that comes to my mind. I want change. I hope my work can influence people to make changes. I was inspired by my story, my own the time I was experiencing going this situation I needed help, I needed someone to listen to me - at the time I couldn’t speak out. And that's what I am doing in my work, I am speaking out, this is my chance to speak out. I want people to know about these situations and change. I took control of my narrative, my story: I am not a housewife, I am an artist, I do aspire to get married in the future but I don’t want to be forced into marriage. I don’t want 9-year-old girls to marry men as old as their dads - I want change.


MLC - What other artists do you like or feel influenced by?


AAHA - There is Daniel Quashie, who is in residency at Gallery 1957 at the moment, his work is about memory, nostalgia, and the feeling of having been there.When you look at my paintings it gives you this same impression of past experience.There is also Gideon Appah, I love the way he uses the blue colors and how loose is strokes are.


MLC - I know you would like to develop your work as a performance artist: what performance can achieve that painting cannot?


AA - I believe Painting is somehow limited to a certain audience, but with performance, you have control over your space.. you can choose to perform at a gallery or a public space… Everyone from different backgrounds gets to experience what is going on. I plan expand my research and to develop this project in tamale. I intend to develop this at “The Crit Lab” in late 2023. I want to raise more awareness In Ghana since child  marriage happens in rural areas. I want to expand my audience.

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