Atta Kwami Playlist
A selection of music celebrating the artist Atta Kwami, to accompany his public mural at Serpentine.
The late painter, printmaker, independent art historian, and curator Atta Kwami (1956 – 2021) is known for his colourful, geometric compositions inspired by diverse references from music, architecture, urban space, and textiles. Music was intrinsically linked to Atta Kwami’s painting practice; the artist directly likened genres such as jazz to his visual language, and would listen to music for hours while making a painting in a single sitting.
Selected by a close friend of Atta Kwami, Christopher Penfold, this playlist brings together some of the artist’s favourite music, combining Ghanaian Highlife music with European classical and American jazz, as well as afro-pop, jazz and folk by musicians from Mali and South Africa. In Penfold’s words: “I’ve included Beethoven’s most syncopated and ‘jazzy’ piece, much of the other music has travelled from Africa to America with the slave trade and back again. I hope that this eclectic mix represents Atta’s all-embracing musical tastes and interests.”
The qualities I seek in my work are: clarity, simplicity, intensity, subtlety, architectonic structure, musicality (rhythm and tone), wholeness and spontaneity. So many strands inevitably manifest themselves in painting: jazz, the timbre of Ghanaian music, improvisation, arrangements of merchandise and so forth. I also see corresponding aesthetic commonalities between wall paintings and music from northern Ghana, the limited range of earth colours, and the pentatonic scale of the xylophone. – Atta Kwami
Dzidzɔ kple amenuveve (Joy and Grace), Kwami’s public mural presented in collaboration with the Maria Lassnig Foundation, is on view at Serpentine until 3 September 2023. If you are able to visit Serpentine in person, you are invited to enjoy this playlist together with the mural.
Atta Kwami (1956 – 2021) was a painter, printmaker, independent art historian and curator. He was trained and taught at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He lived between Kumasi and Loughborough, UK, keeping a studio in both cities. He remains highly influential as a scholar and teacher and wrote an important publication on contemporary Ghanaian art titled Kumasi Realism, 1951 – 2007: An African Modernism. He was selected for the Folkestone Triennial 2020/2021 and the new sculptures he made for this are now on long-loan at Loughborough University.
Kwami received many awards including Wolfson Fellowship, Cambridge; Fifteenth Triennial Symposium on African Art, University of California, Los Angeles; Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan; and 1st Thoyer Distinguished Visiting Scholar, New York University, New York.
Kwami’s work is held in international collections including the National Museum of Ghana, the V&A, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, Brooklyn Museum, The National Museum of Kenya, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the British Museum.