Kojo Marfo butcher-turned-artist
jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG Saturday 16th July 2021
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
Ghana’s Kojo Marfo: Sell-out show for butcher-turned-painter
Kojo Marfo is a butcher-turned-artist determined to tell the world about the importance of cows.
“The cow builds civilisations,” says Marfo. “In Ghana we use them to plough the land and if you have two to three animals, you can get a beautiful woman to marry you. In parts of India they are treated as Gods.”
His appreciation began in childhood in rural Ghana, where he was raised by his mother and grandma, and it grew after moving to New York for work where he fell into a short-term career as a butcher.
“I was actually hopeless. I knew so little about meat, I’d cheat,” says the 41-year-old.
“On the wall there were anatomical drawings of the animals detailing each cut and I’d have to use those as a guide. Even then, my boss would catch me and all I would be doing is chatting to customers.”
He may have once sold their flesh, but his bovine-inspired canvases now fetch three times their asking price. Marfo’s work now graces a range of designer scarves by Aspinal of London.
Other topics close to the artist’s heart are the power of womanhood, the value of single parenting and the beauty of vitiligo.
His work at first glance feels vividly African – he grew up in the mountainous town of Kwahu, about four hours from Accra – but each piece is a careful patchwork of different continents.
Renaissance ruff collars from Britain, sacred cows from India and fertility dolls from Ghana all feature.
“We live in a great melting pot – it has many cracks in it,” he says. “But I want to bring people together and for everyone to see their culture reflected.”
Marfo remembers spending his formative years in the local library looking at pictures of Picasso and watching the craftsmen of Accra sell their wares to tourists, but says his own artistic ambitions initially got no further than the riverbank.
“I felt I should be becoming a doctor or an accountant, but I would go to the river’s edge and collect the tough clay or get berries and crush them into dyes.
“I would put Vaseline on paper to create tracing paper to trace from art books or magazines. But it wasn’t until I left Ghana that my work became serious.”
Eventually he found his way from New York to the UK, where he worked in his aunt’s grocery shop in London.
During the 2000s Marfo admits he gave up on his art but was drawn back in once inspiration returned.
“I wanted to show how positive a single-parent lifestyle could be,” he says.
“In the mountains, women are the hardest-working people there and women alone raised me. A staunch feminist once told me that men were always in charge, that women were always victims. But women are always in charge where I’m from.”
His work also began to toy with ideas of beauty – giving all his characters vitiligo on their faces. The medical condition sees paler, unpigmented patches develop on a person’s skin.
“The faces, which look like a collage cut, I got those ideas from a person that I know that had vitiligo,” Marfo said in a recent interview.
“When I tried it, it worked for me. I always say to myself that I don’t want to paint beautiful art… I just want to paint something that I could use to talk about issues.”
Being raised by a Jehovah’s Witness mother also fed his curiosity about religious symbolism.
“An African understanding of art is completely different to Europeans’. Europeans can play with art and express themselves but, in Africa, they look at it from a different angle.
“If you paint a beautiful figure, a man or a woman or nature – it is accepted. But the moment you delve into spirituality and voodoo, everyone says: ‘This guy is dangerous!’ Even good friends will say: ‘How can you reference these things, you cannot play with this stuff’.”
Marfo began selling pieces online, then sent his work to an open call-out for developing artists, called Isolation Mastered.
Their vibrancy and edge caught the attention of judges – including Sotheby’s art historian David Bellingham and art collector and Gavin Rossdale, from British rock band Bush, who bought one of Marfo’s paintings for his personal collection.
Suddenly all of Marfo’s work was selling.
“I don’t know if it was because of the Black Lives Matter background,” says Marfo.
“I hear two things from buyers: They see something different in my work – ‘there’s no-one doing what you’re doing,’ they say – and they like the personal stories I attach to them.”
Such stories include Coronation, which features a couple staring intently ahead. You notice on second glance that the female figure is wearing a boxing glove clenched into a fist. This, says Marfo, is an ode to a woman he knows who discovered her partner was having an affair during lockdown.
At his first exhibition at London’s JD Malat Gallery, all of his works sold out in the first month. At his second exhibition, Dreaming of Identity, all of his works were snapped up by the end of the first day.
But Marfo, a boy from the mountains, cares nothing for the money. It’s all about getting by.
“In Kwahu the land is no good for growing things, so you learn to make your own way. In Ghana, if you are from Kwahu, you are considered a money-grabber but I’ve always been made to feel grateful just for what was in my pocket.”
And he hasn’t entirely written off swapping his paintbrush for the butchers’ knife again either.
“I am still fascinated by the work of butchers, I’d like to learn the skill and do it properly.”
By Andy Jones – BBC
TOP TEN OF THE DAY
TOP TEN little-known facts about the Cow
- The term “cow” refers only to the females of the bovine population. Males are typically called bulls or steers.
- Cows have almost panoramic, 360-degree vision, allowing them to watch for predators or humans from all angles. Translation: It’s nearly impossible to sneak up on them, would-be cow tippers.
- Bovines can’t see the colour red. Those crimson flags that matadors wave in the rodeo ring only catch a bull’s attention because of their fluttering.
- Cows have an acute sense of smell and can detect odors up to six miles away, which is also helpful in detecting imminent danger.
- These mammals have no upper front teeth. Instead, they press their sharp bottom teeth against the top hard palate of their mouth to cut efficiently through blades of grass.
- Cows move their jaws about 40,000 times a day, chewing cud or grass about 40 times a minute.
- Thanks to a high metabolism, the average dairy cow consumes more than 100 pounds of food per day and drinks up to 40 gallons of water per day.
- These extremely social creatures don’t like to be alone. So if a cow isolates herself, she’s either not feeling well or she’s about to give birth.
- Cows spend the vast majority of their time lying down — about 10 to 12 hours each day.
- In India, you can go to jail for killing or injuring a cow. Hindu nations believe that cows are holy and should be esteemed — not eaten.
2nd TOP TEN COW NAMES
- Bertha – a popular cow name
- Betty Sue – double-barreled choices make great cow names!
- Buttercup – an adorable nickname, after the yellow flowers
- Cockadoodle Moo – for a cow who wakes everyone up!
- Flopsy – a great moniker if paired with a cow called ‘Mopsy’
- Mama Moo – after the Swedish talking cow
- Milkshake – a funny choice for a cow who produces lots of milk!
- Moona Lisa – a pun on the famous painting of the ‘Mona Lisa’ which hangs in the Louvre in Paris
- Oink – a funny and ironic option for a cow who certainly doesn’t say oink!
- Winnie the Moo – a pun on A. A. Milne’s classic fictional character ‘Winnie the Pooh’
DON’T FORGET TO LAUGH EVERYDAY
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE FOR THE DAY
“Just because you don’t know what you want yet, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to want.” – Emily Henry
Happiness is…cows sitting chewing their cud in the mid afternoon sun.
GRANDAD’S ONE LINER JOKE OF THE DAY
Did you hear about the mathematician who was afraid of negative numbers? He (or she) would stop at nothing to avoid them.
Love is…laughing at the same old jokes.
A time to chew the grass…A time to provide milk.
1967 Hendrix Leaves ‘The Monkees’. One of the most unusual collaborations of American music split when Jimi Hendrix backed out from an opening act for the pop rock band ‘The Monkees’ on this day of 1967. The U.S rock guitarist Hendrix mixed American music genres like blues, jazz, soul, rock with English rock to create a new style of music altogether.
1955 Disneyland opens its doors for the first time. The popular theme park (“The Happiest Place on Earth”) was opened by Walt Disney in Anaheim, California.
1917 Royal Family Name Changed
1917 The King of England King George announced the new name of the royal house and family is to be the House of Windsor after he decided to drop his German family name “Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.”
BOOK OF THE DAY
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RETRO HIT RECORD RAMBLINGS
Reflections of a Top Hit Record
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©2021 Phil M Robinson