“Like Serge, I have always been interested in social conditions,” Quarshie explains via e-mail, as he prepares for the new show in Accra. The two became friends, though their approach to this common object is very different. Quarshie depicts stacks of whole jerry cans in his paintings, whereas Clottey cuts them up into pieces to create sculptural tapestries. The containers were attractive to Quarshie not to promote environmental issues, but as a way to question the ever-present objects of contemporary society.
“When I started looking at the object of the gallons, I saw all these contradictions: in their shared and shifting ownerships, their network of class relations, their repurposing,” Quarshie offers. “The gallons entered into the system first as oil canisters, and were later appropriated for storing and conveying water;” he notes that the containers replaced older systems for transporting water, including pig feet barrels and buckets. “You have people from all walks of life, geographies, and positions who are implicated in the subject at one time. Even those who may not directly use it might see what it stood for to the everyday person.”
The subjects of the paintings (a continuation of his first Yellow is the Colour of Water portrait, realized in 2013) were carefully selected to represent a genuine cross-section of Ghanaian society—a way to further explore the intertwining of different aspects of culture and life. “One of the people who posed was my grandmother. She is in her mid-90s and currently lives with us. I found it very interesting because she has lived through all these different eras in our history as a country,” Quarshie explains. “She has lived in colonial times, during times of independence, after independence, through the coup d’états, and through a democratic system. She’s also lived in different regions of the country. She carries so much history as a person. So I found it very important for her to sit for me.”