RAPHAEL ADJETEY ADJEI MAYNE
I WANT TO BE LIKE YOU WHEN I GROW UP
September 09, 2022 - October 28, 2022
Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne was born in 1983 in Accra, Ghana (West Africa), where he discovered his passion for painting already in his childhood. Now living in Germany, the artist combines in his multi-layered mixed media works colourful portraits with the rich symbolic world of Ghanaian Adinkra. The latter is the term for the symbolic language used in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. Often referred to as wax prints, those cotton fabrics are printed with patterns or symbols in a particular process. The elaborate motifs – alone or in combination – each refer to different attributes and characteristics. But more than that, the Adrinka symbols have philosophical aspirations and thus express also deeper truths and aphorisms. For instance, the heart (akoma) stands for patience and tolerance, the fern (aya) for perseverance and resourcefulness. Two arrows connected by a circle – "Help me and let me help you" (boa me na me mmoa wo) – stand for cooperation as well as for interdependence.
In its cultural significance, the Adinkra extends into Ghana's current imagery and day-to-day life, with small regional differences. From wall symbols on buildings, to clothing, to company logos, Adinkra symbols have become an integral part of everyday Ghanaian life over centuries.
Mayne's very personal connection to the colourful printed fabrics stems from his childhood. He clearly remembers how his mother used to tailor her own clothes from wax print fabrics and often made a matching garment for one of the children from leftover fabric. Either his figures wear Adinkra fabrics themselves, or the textiles form a colourful background – a timeless ground for his motifs. Followingly, Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne not only combines painting and textiles in his portraits, but also interweaves personal experiences and encounters from his own life in his works. In this process, intuitive atmospheric images emerge, full of private and political moments that draw from history as well from the present.
Capturing all the details, Mayne meticulously sketches his figures – especially the clothing of the portrait subject. In his ongoing Faceless series, however, he omits a detailed rendering of facial features and the face in general. Mayne does not intent to anonymise people, but he seeks to direct the viewer's focus on body language and pose. When the artist reduces the portraits and brings them down to a flat, almost stylising level, he attempts to stimulate an important thought process: Who is the person in front of me? Is she/he happy, serious, surprised, curious? Can I put myself in the other person's shoes? With this approach the artist pursues his images, that is, the faces and individuals behind them, instead of just simply reproducing them.
The artist invites the viewer to think about the depicted person: "Not just look at them but look into them", Mayne explains.
An important insight about the covering of faces is the potential of unveiling something that gets notices only at a second glance: What makes this person an individual, what makes this person special?
The bodies on Mayne’s canvases seem relaxed and familiar with each other. Placed in the middle of the canvas and often in mere space, the depicted faceless figures confront us without being disrupted by our gaze. It is not a confrontation between the depicted and the viewer, but a friendly approach.
An important part of Mayne's practice begins already in direct contact and in conversations with people. He encounters them in his neighbourhood and on the streets, or he paints his family members. Particularly close to his heart is the interaction with children, for whom he has founded the Afutumix Foundation in his home country. "I want to be like you when I grow up," is what the children often say to him.
Some of Mayne’s portraits got also a political commentary attached to them, especially targeted towards racism. Green Gloves (Self Portrait) (2021) is a self-portrait of the artist wearing boxing gloves. But he also paints well-known people, such as the US Secretary of State, Kamala Harris (2021) and the young poet, writer and activist Amanda Gorman (2021). However, by combining African prints with Western patterns, Manye then conciliates both. For example, some figures wear African trousers combined with a typical Western top. Two different pictorial traditions, two socio-cultural materials that the artist literally fuses together.
Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne studied painting at the Ghanatta College of Arts and Design, which he attended together with Amoako Boafo, one of the most internationally sought-after artists of today. His works are exhibited at international art fairs including AKAA Paris, Investec Cape Town Art Fair, 1-54 African Art Fair New York, Art On Paper New York and Sydney Contemporary. His works are in the MuCEM Collections, in Marseille and in the Harvard University Collection in Boston.
RAPHAEL ADJETEY ADJEY MAYNE - I WANT TO BE LIKE YOU WHEN I GROW UP
9 September - 28 October 2022