Atta Kwami: Maria Lassnig Prize Mural
In partnership with the Maria Lassnig Foundation, Serpentine presents a public art mural by the late painter, printmaker, independent art historian, and curator Atta Kwami (1956 – 2021).
With a career spanning 40 years, Kwami’s practice brought together painting, architecture, sculpture, and education. Born in Accra, Ghana he trained and taught for 20 years at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. Kwami lived primarily in Kumasi and later in Loughborough, UK, keeping a studio in both cities and drawing inspiration for his paintings from both global and local art histories and traditions. His compositions of geometric strips, stripes and grids particularly connect to Northern Ghanaian wall and house painting, street vendor kiosks, commercial sign painting, woven textiles, Ghanaian music, and jazz.
Alongside making paintings, prints and artist’s books, Kwami also became known for painting constructions – kiosks and archway sculptures – that were conceived as expanded three-dimensional paintings within outdoor spaces. The commission originates from a painting on canvas that Kwami reworked in his studio in 2021, shortly before his death – making this the final, landmark public work of his pioneering career. Designed in dialogue with the North Gallery Garden, the mural Dzidzɔ kple amenuveve (Joy and Grace), 2021-22, embodies the artist’s vibrant palette and fluid abstract painting style. Its title is in Ewe, a West African language spoken by Kwami, and its composition characteristically plays with the colour and form improvisations distinctive to Ghanaian architecture and strip-woven textiles found across the African continent, especially kente cloth from the Ewe and Asante people of Ghana.
The mural is painted on wood – the surface Kwami used for outdoor constructions – by artist Pamela Clarkson, Kwami’s widow who shared a studio with him for over 30 years, and designer Andy Philpott, his friend and collaborator on constructions in Amsterdam, Folkestone and Loughborough.
- Maria Lassnig Prize and Monograph
Kwami received the 2021 Maria Lassnig Prize which is awarded biennially to a mid-career artist in association with an international institutional partner. This mural commission will be accompanied by a monograph planned closely with the artist and published in 2023. It will explore Kwami’s prolific career, his impact on art history, and his lasting legacy. The book will be designed by Mark El-Khatib and will feature the artist’s final interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist alongside new texts by Sir David Adjaye OBE, Clémentine Deliss, Ama Dogbe, Lisa Milroy, and John Picton, amongst others.
Atta Kwami is the third artist to be granted the Maria Lassnig Prize, following Cathy Wilkes, with MoMA PS1, New York (2017), and Sheela Gowda, with Lenbachhaus, Munich (2019).
- About Atta Kwami
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.
- Pamela Clarkson
Pamela Clarkson is a painter and printmaker. She trained at the Central School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London, and the Escuela de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile. In 1991 Clarkson travelled to Ghana to work at the University in Kumasi (KNUST) where she met Atta Kwami. They lived in Kumasi until 2009. Subsequently, they based themselves in the UK, travelling between the two countries.
- Andy Philpott
Andy Philpott trained as a ceramicist at Loughborough University. He works as a designer.
Dzidzɔ kple amenuveve (Joy and Grace) is curated by Melissa Blanchflower, Curator Exhibitions and Public Art. Thanks to Kit Withnail, Head of Production and Delivery, and Anthony Williams, Director, Beyond Surface.