From Ghana, with love: Big global name helping solve small city problem

Palm Springs Public Arts Commissioner Shawnda Faveau and artist Serge Attukwei Clottey are pictured Wednesday beside his installation “The Wishing Well” at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center .

Can plastic containers from Africa solve an acoustics issue in Palm Springs? That’s the hope of one Palm Springs Public Arts Commissioner who called upon the creator of a series of powerful, provocative installations to help solve a simple problem here.

“I don’t mind driving the extra mile to get artwork to this city,” proclaimed Commissioner Shawnda Faveau as she stood beside artist Serge Attukwei Clottey’s “The Wishing Well” installation at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center Wednesday. Faveau and the Palm Springs Black History Committee were instrumental in bringing Clottey to the Unity Center this week, where he hosted a pair of interactive public workshops.

The purpose of the workshops was twofold, Faveau explained: First, she is hopeful that large Clottey installations, if created and secured by the city, can help absorb sounds in the Unity Center’s gym and community rooms, where the acoustics are poor; more importantly, she said, the presence of such an important artist in the community could serve to plant seeds in the minds of future artists at a time when opportunities are scarce.

“This teaches children that there are other avenues to get you to where you want to be in life,” she said.

Workshop attendees were encouraged to explore designing potential sound buffers with everyday materials such as cardboard and stickers.

During the Unity Center workshops, Clottey first ran through a slide presentation showing many of his pieces currently installed or on display in not only California (where Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles represents him) but Paris, Berlin, Dubai, and his native Ghana. Afterward, he and Faveau guided both adults and children through an exercise in which they created concepts for potential art pieces that could be used to buffer sounds. Participants used common materials such as cardboard, magazines, and stickers.

In “The Wishing Well,” squares cut from Kufuor gallons can be seen wired together.

A common item in Africa is what Clottey is most associated with in the art community. Using plastic Kufuor gallons as a medium — a concept he coined “Afrogallonism” — his teams of assistants cut squares and wire them together to help him create art that ultimately speaks to the history of colonial pillaging and its effects on trade and migration. In Palm Springs, “The Wishing Well,” featured as part of Desert X in 2021, refers to the wells to which many people worldwide must trek daily to access water.

“Each gallon has a story,” Clottey explained to workshop attendees Wednesday afternoon. “When you install them in a public space, you empower the people.”

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