The man 'Black' with many parts
8/22/2008 10:10:57 PM -
At his annual solo exhibition earlier this year, Quaye Kojo Benedict (more commonly known as "Black") recited poetry from inside a coffin.
While friends and art-appreciators roamed around the gallery looking at Black's paintings and sculptures, Black performed into a cordless microphone while lying inside a specially designed black casket labeled "Refuse Box."
"I took it upon myself to speak on death," Black said. "Death is nothing to be feared. Death is a person".
Before his parents died ten years ago, he didn"t like to see corpses. To him, they were nameless images. Death seemed evil then.
But while reading the Book of Revelation, Black came across a passage that described death "on a white horse"an image that seemed peaceful and free.
"I want to be representative to tell people not to run from only persons who can take us where we want to go", Black said. "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die", he drawled.
The meaning of death is just one of the many questions Black seeks to understand through his art. Who am I? What am I? Where do I come from?
Where am I going? Should I get there or not? How do I know?
"These (questions) have become like music to me", the prolific painter intimated. "It's scary. Can you ever be satisfied"But with all of his questioning, Black does have a few rooted beliefs.
"I believe in simplicity. I believe it is divine", he asserted. "I believe in individuality as well, because it is spiritual."
Born and raised in Ablenkpe, a suburb of Accra, Black was a quiet child. He kept to himself and didn't have much drive until he grew up and enrolled in a 3-year apprenticeship at Love Art Studio. Under Richard Yeaboah, Black learned to make practical art: sign art, portraits, t-shirts, billboards, etc. After his apprenticeship, he spent time at the school at the National Cultural Centre learning painting, drumming, dancing, ceramics, and performance. It was poetic performance that Black was most drawn to.
He earned a diploma in painting and graphic design from Ankel College of Arts in 2000 and after spending a few years working for Divine Channels, a non-profit organization which selects youth ambassadors to spread awareness about HIV, Black launched his professional art career in full force. Under the sponsorship of Kofi Setordji, Black lived and worked among other artists at ArtHAUS, an artists' residency founded by Setordji.
He painted, "installing" ideas on two dimensions in surrealistic forms after the manner of Salvador Dali, Black's source of inspiration.
"People want to do market scenes and beaches". Black said, "but that's not what I am".
He doesn't sell his paintings, but hangs them in his studio in Ablenkpe. Shapes and colors pop against his black walls.
"Painting has always been around", he says. "People have pushed it and it is somewhere now".
But his real passion and real cause is poetry.
"Audiences today are not open enough to receive poetry", he says. "It requires a certain amount of attention. The competition is not hot".
Unlike rap, which Black describes as "poetry on wheels", he says poetry requires people to really say something and really go somewhere. Rap is too repetitious.
"We have recyclers. We have writers. We don't have performers", he says.
Performance is an important part of poetry for Black. He practices what he calls "Ette-Lakasa", a term derived from a fusion of three African languages meaning a collaboration of talking, music, and performance.
Black first performed at an open music night at the British Council, and hasn't stopped since then. He's done television performances on shows like Morning Right , but says that TV isn't for him. He does do radio performances, however, including Legon Radio Station's Sunday Evening program for young poets.
"When you make people feel good, you can take your happiness from it", Black said. "The more people love what I am doing in my performances, the more energy I have to give them more".
His older sister, Anna, says that Black is always making poems; while he's eating, while he's working. He just can't seem to help himself.
Black's life is not a mechanical one. He spends time meditating and exercising every day, but otherwise, he lives by his instincts.
He's not a Christian, but he is very spiritual. He calls himself "a believer" but doesn't impose his beliefs on others. He sees himself as a spiritual being, but also as an African.
"A few years ago, I had an identity problem", he said. "I struggled to find when, where, and how I could represent myself".
The concept came to him as "a seed", he said, but it has since grown and flourished into who he is.
He only wears black attires. He only uses black things. His name is Black and so is his cat's. At his brother's wedding, Black turned his suit jacket inside out. The ash color on the outside wasn't black enough.
He says it is a reminder of his humanity. He can always fall short.
"It takes darkness to appreciate light", he says.
Those who know him well say that Black is soft-spoken, but honest.
"Black is an artist who gives a lot to thought", says friend and fellow-artist Bernard Akoi-Jackson. "He talks very little but when hemust speak, it is worth listening to".
Akoi-Jackson says that when his friend is on stage, he spits out words like fire.
"This is what makes him unique", Akoi-Jackson says and continues, "You cannot necessarily describe him. You must experience him to know him".