On Nov. 4 the exhibit “The Medium is the Message — The African Diaspora Story,” curated by Michael Dela Dika, opened its doors for its grand opening at Taylor Hall Gallery. The opening night showcased sculptures, paintings and photographs from various artists in conjunction with African foods. The event served jollof rice with tomato sauce and chicken, waakye with couscous, fried plantain and coleslaw with spicy sauce.
Dika, who came to the U.S. from Ghana in 2019, is a second year graduate student at the University of Delaware pursuing a master’s in fine arts. After coming to the U.S. he began to look into the ways in which other immigrants from Africa were able to express their feelings through their artwork.
“I was trying to figure out how other artists from Ghana or Africa are able to communicate their feelings and to be themselves in an environment that feels very different,” Dika said. “I started thinking about and reaching out to artists from the diaspora and interviewing them about how they communicate through their work in their new environment.”
Dika received a grant from the University of Delaware and traveled across the country looking for artists to be a part of his exhibit. The final group consisted of Eugene Ofori Agyei, Eric André, Japheth Asiedu-Kwarteng, Rita Mawuena Benissan, Dufie Kufuor, Emmanuel Manu Opoku and Yaw Owusu. Each artist brought a unique perspective from the diaspora and showcased different types of art in the exhibit, all using different media, from clay to fabric to paint.
The creation process for the exhibit was not easy. It required months of planning and hours of setup, including the time it took for each artist to drive their pieces to Delaware and the time it took to install each piece. Artists traveled from locations such as Florida and Illinois, which took over 10 hours of driving in order to make sure their pieces arrived safely. However, regardless of how much time the artists had to put in, they found participating in the exhibit’s creation meaningful and worthwhile.
“As an African in the U.S. … I felt great seeing different people from different backgrounds interacting with my work,” Agyei, second year MFA graduate student at the University of Florida, said. “It also made me feel special because I realized that people from Delaware or from the university really appreciate people and accept different aspects of who you are as an artist.”
Agyei uses his art to express his feelings. He finds comfort in using clay as the main medium to communicate his emotions. One example is the use of clay and string in a featured piece called “Overwhelmed.” He uses this piece to signify the ways that new cultures can be challenging as they merge together with old ones.
Dika and the other artists believe that the expression of culture through art is an effective way to bring people together to help them share different experiences in a way that words alone often can not facilitate.
“I’m speaking to my experiences without my family here and being away from home,” Asiedu-Kwarteng, first year graduate MFA student at Illinois State University, said. “There are a lot of things that happen to people in their lives, but how often do you hear about those experiences? I feel like the more you’re able to talk about those experiences, the more you can get away with the pain of those experiences.”
Agyei maintains a website at https://eugeneagyeiarts.com/ where all his works can be viewed. Asiedu-Kwarteng maintains a website at https://jtakwarteng.wixsite.com/ceramicsart where his work can also be found.
Although the exhibit has ended at the University of Delaware, it will be traveling to Pennsylvania for another showing in January. The exhibit will reopen Jan. 7 and be on view until the end of February at the Grizzly Grizzly art gallery in Philadelphia.
“The main goal is to be able to give people an intimate experience into the African diaspora and open a gateway to more diversity, which is often missing or not seen enough,” Dika said.
Dika hopes that the exhibition will be able to travel even further if he is able to get enough funding. Dika’s exhibit and the artists showcased in them can be supported through word of mouth, donations and attendance of events.
“The most important thing for me is to be able to get the exposure for the exhibition because I feel like there is a lot that people need to know about different perspectives from people from Africa,” Dika said. “I think it brought in the dialogue of cultural identity and how people identify themselves in the U.S., and we had a very educated discourse about identity.”