George “Fowokan” Kelly
Fowokan – a name meaning “one who creates with the hand”’ in the West African language Yoruba - was born Kenness George Kelly in Jamaica in 1943 and migrated to England in 1957. A self-taught artist, he is known primarily for his striking sculpted busts but more recently has experimented with the manipulation of digital images.
He cites his inspiration as his ancestral history and culture of pre-colonial Africa and ancient Egypt, noting that he purposefully eschewed western art institutions and their prevailing cultural teachings. Inspired to begin his artistic practice after visiting Benin, Nigeria, in the 1970s, he draws intuitively on aspects of mysticism and religion in African culture. He believes firmly in the restorative nature of art on the pan-African psyche and how traditions can be fused with contemporary art practice to offer a representational voice for those silenced by mainstream history.
Fowokan sculpts stoic and monumental busts in a wide variety of materials, often utilising the raw quality of these different mediums to enhance his distinct characterisation of the works.
Mother of the Deep Ocean (1996) is inspired by the Yoruba deity Olokun, a goddess of the depths of the sea. She is believed to guard the souls of enslaved Africans who died in the Middle Passage during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Lost Queen of Pernambuco (1989) refers to the settlement of Pernambuco on the border of Brazil and Dutch Guiana, where Africans who had escaped enslavement formed communities known as a “mocambos”.
Fowokan’s busts image lesser-known triumphant figures of African history, and their significance was intensified at the No Colour Bar exhibition because of their placement, directly opposite a bust of Edward VII.
Fowokan’s bust of Jessica Huntley captures her humanism and spirit in steel resin, fulfilling his wish “to immortalise the power and action of a seemingly ordinary person” while demonstrating her centrality to the activism that No Colour Bar commemorates and the spirit shared by the art exhibited.
Fowokan’s work is held in many public and private collections. He has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at The Cuban Biennial (1990), the Jamaican High Commission (1994), The British Museum (2007–2009) and numerous times at the Royal Academy of Art Summer Show, and he has had commissions from such institutions as The Black Art Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Fowokan George Kelly (b. 1943)
Lost Queen of Pernambuco, 1989
Pernambuco refers to a settlement of Africans who escaped enslavement and lived as a community on the border of Brazil and Dutch Guiana for over 90 years, only to be re-enslaved “due to their lack of vigilance”.
Fibreglass, resin, stainless steel, nails and low melt alloy
On loan from the artist