Jasmine Anokye, a Ghanaian-American artist, celebrates the resilience and triumph of Black women through her multimedia glassworks. A sculptor, painter, and glass artist, Anokye combines her range of skills to create pieces that encourage reflection and introspection on the black female experience. With her childhood spent between Ghana and America, she brings together ethnic and street cultures in an aggressive harmony that explores the diversity of femininity and pushes back against stereotypes that limit black women. Earlier this year, Anokye's day/dreams exhibition graced the Agnes Varis Art Gallery's window gallery with wall-to-wall beaded curtains and mixed media art focused on African proverbs that allowed the viewer to truly dream as they passed by. (Disclosure: UrbanGlass is also the publisher of the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet.)
The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet was able to connect with Anokye through email to discuss her evolving body of work that explores a multitude of links between African and New York cultures, finding correspondences and power in the blending and fusing of the two.
Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: I know identity is a major area of inquiry for you in your work, and you often reference African culture in your various works. As someone who identifies as a native New Yorker, how did you connect with African culture in your childhood, and why does it occupy such a prominent place in your artwork, which quotes from African proverbs, includes imagery of traditional African clothing styles, and references African motifs in jewelry and adornment?
Jasmine Anokye: This is an interesting question as my work and identity are interlocked. Intertwined. It is all so personal to me and based mostly on my experiences.
Though I was born in Brooklyn, New York, I spent my formative years living with my grandparents in Ghana. I have such a strong connection to the country and pride in its rich culture and history. My work pays homage to my African heritage while highlighting femininity and spirituality. I draw so many influences from my life. Artist aside, as a person, I am influenced by New York City’s edgy aesthetic as well as traditional and contemporary Ghanaian style. Identity is the work. The work is me. I am not one of those artists that can separate themselves from their work. At least not yet...
Glass: What came first for you -- painting, collage, or glass? And cn you talk a little bit about your development as an artist - when and how did you start making art? When did you start working with glass?
Anokye: Honestly, I consider myself a laborer -- a tradeswoman. My favorite tools are my hands. My first love was sculpture -- building things. Paper dolls, pillow fortresses and then painting, with a focus on color theory and then collage, followed by glass/jewelry. I was introduced to glass as an art form in 2016 while enrolled in The Bead Project Fellowship Program.
Glass: What did glass add, or how do you see the material of glass and its relationship to other media - what is special or unique about it?
Anokye: What I love about working with glass and glass jewelry is the ability to sculpt with a new material. Glass is literally everywhere! I see the material for more than it’s function now. Glass is temperamental, emotional, and therapeutic. Since there is a special connection to glass beads in Ghana, naturally, I was drawn to flameworking.
Glass: The subjects in your work are almost all Black women. Why do they get your primary focus, and what draws you to this particular group?
Anokye: As an artist, I am heavily motivated by the study of culture, evolution and identity. The subjects, primarily Black women, represent resilience and triumph, each carrying intangible strength and divinity while counteracting societal stereotypes and man-made barriers.
I draw strength from my ancestors and the women in my family, focusing on the Black female figure and form. Ghana being a matrilineal society has everything to do with the influence Black women have over my work. There is an emphasis on sisterhood, sexuality and feminine energy as themes of my work.
I'm interested in studying the idea of social construction and how gender stereotypes are shaped by society with an emphasis on feminist research; specifically ancient/pre-colonial women-centered laws meant to promote women's rights and a humanistic society. Pre-Colonial Ancient Africa respected Black women and held them to a high esteem and you can see this is still a fundamental part of the culture. I am interested in exploring the toxic effect colonialism had on African culture and the effects of western influence on the continent.
In the coming phase of my work I will do independent research to inform my work by collecting oral history and stories from extended family in Ghana. I’m currently looking for materials to do this research and find the best way to approach this independent study.
Glass: Glass has an ancient history in Africa in the form of beadmaking, but I see in your work that you also incorporate neon and kiln-formed glass, more contemporary ways of working with glass. How do you see tradition and contemporary media working together -- is there a conflict? Do they represent different things in your artwork, things that benefit from the contrast in the processes by which you make them?
Anokye: This is all I do. Sit at this intersection. Blend old and new. This is my mission as an artist and what I seek to explore. Some materials I use have their own historical context or story. Such as braiding hair I wore dating back to 2018, diary entries, a piece of scrap fabric passed down to me from my Grandmother. The work is very much alive.
Glass: The United States as a brutal history of its relationship to Africa - from the legacy of slavery to exploitation of natural resources, there are some very difficult questions about the history. How do you see that history and is it something that you engage with at all in your work?
Anokye: This is a loaded question -- one that I don’t think I have enough life experience to answer. There is so much research I want to do regarding this brutal history as it pertains to my work and the legacy I want to leave on this Earth.
Having spent the early years of my childhood in Ghana, I rarely thought about my skin color. I saw myself as African. I saw myself as Ghanaian. But never as a color. As simply a Black person. Even when my family settled in NY, my sisters and I lived in predominantly immigrant communities and with New York City being the melting pot it is, I didn’t become sensitive to my skin color and the disrespect I would receive as a result of being darker skinned due to systemic racism in The United States, until I graduated college and joined the mainstream workforce. It is odd for me to say I experienced culture shock in my early twenties, despite living in America for most of my life.
My work is not about the brutal history of the United States though. My work is about my experience as a first-generation African woman living in America. I see the history as what it is, history - not to be forgotten, but a history we can all learn from.
I am the product of this brutal history. My ancestors' wildest dreams! A majority of 2020 was spent trying to figure out how I want to represent myself as an artist and the meaning behind my work. Challenging systemic racism in the US, recognizing my privilege as an African - understanding my ancestry and culture - all of this is part of the work too.
Glass: In your artist's statement, you reference the ideology of #blackgirlmagic when you discuss the things that fuel your work, including fearlessness and resilience. Can you talk about this ideology and how it impacts your artmaking?
Anokye: Black Girl Magic (#BlackGirlMagic) is a movement popularized by CaShawn Thompson in 2013. The concept was born as a way to "celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of Black women”. As an artist, I want to see myself in the work I make. Whether that be in the subject of the work or the craftsmanship, the work is a direct reflection and extension of me. The beautiful thing is that I am not alone.
By simply tagging #blackgirlmagic, I am paying respect to the often overlooked power (hard and soft) that Black women hold. At the heart of this tag is sisterhood and a simple “I see you” moment. Black Women literally “see” each other all the time, especially at times when we are being disrespected or overlooked. We “see” each other, we uplift each other, we celebrate each other constantly. It was only a matter of time before this celebration of Black sisterhood moved to a digital space. With all this in mind, I work to uphold this mantra daily and continue to challenge the erasures of Black female achievement through my art.
Glass: You recently completed an exhibition at the Agnes Varis Art Center at UrbanGlass. What was the response to the work?
Anokye: day/dreams served as a love letter to my community -- the community that continues to inspire me to create the work I do. As I was installing my show, passers by would nod and clap as a sign of encouragement, cheering me on as the neon portraits of Black women lit up along UG’s Fulton and Rockwell windows.
The concept for this installation evolved several times from what I had originally proposed. The central theme of the work was healing from collective trauma through universal proverbs. The constant thread that connected all of the works was storytelling, community building and sharing ideas.
Glass: Do you have any future exhibitions planned? What's next?
Anokye: Well, I love learning, so much more of that! My plan is to go back to school with a focus in jewelry design. I am pivoting and focusing on building my skills to continue melding my mixed media and creative passions.
Thinking long term and planning for the future. My next project includes a variety show incorporating stop motion. All of this will probably take a few years. In the meantime, I plan to visit Ghana and neighboring African countries and work with local artists there.