Eric Gyamfi’s black-and-white photographic series Just Like Us (2016), explores subjectivities of desire, sexuality, conviviality, despair, anxiety, intimacy, joy, and mundaneness and portrays the normality that circumscribes queer lives in Ghanaian society. The series is a documentary project developed over a yearlong period with subjects (some of whom are friends of the artist) who identify within the LGBTQ spectrum and others who do not. He describes the process as “living with people for weeks and months” to be able to tell stories from their perspectives. Sexuality, through this body of work, becomes a starting point to begin to explore themes of everydayness and raise questions about the problematics inherent in the concept of ‘normality’. Gyamfi, born in Ghana, received his bachelor’s in Economics and Information Studies from the University of Ghana and later developed his interest in photography by training in the Nuku Studio master classes —an annual photography workshop program open to local and international photographers.
See Me See You (2016) the resulting exhibition from the series — supported by the Magnum Foundation’s Emergency Fund — seeks to “instigate a kind of questioning of perception and reality” by raising the following questions: “Are queer/LGBT persons evil? Does queerness really equate to perversion? Can queerness be reconciled with religion? How do I see queer people and is the perception really true? What is the truth?”. The artist’s inquiry opens up a vast array of personal, socio-cultural, moral, political and philosophical concerns to extrapolate. This interest is not only raised in abstract propositions but implemented in tangible forms through the exhibitionary model Gyamfi implements at the Nubuke Foundation gallery— a contemporary art space in Ghana’s capital city, Accra.
Although the questions may elicit a binomial “Yes/No” mode of interaction, the exhibitionary form, however, complicates the dynamic. It functions as a site which permits an artistic interrogation into the social systems which determine what we perceive, how we can perceive what we are able to perceive, who is permitted in this process and the unspoken rules which determine the boundary lines between normativity, otherness and what could —if we are not too fixed on the inevitable binaries produced by such systems— potentially be interstitial positions with regard to sexuality. By the exhibition strategy, not only are spectators contemplating what is before them in the printed photographs mounted on black boarding against pristine white walls: it is a participatory and reflexive model countenanced by an ensemble of photographic objects, a black board and mirrors all of which are mounted in different halls of the exhibition space.
From the point of view of spectatorship, the photographic work becomes a transitive object which initiates a conversation between the artist and his audience(s), the latter of whom may then be compelled to contribute to the conversation by writing brief notes on sticky paper to be displayed on a black board. The board montages personal paraphernalia collected by the artist from the subjects he had photographed, their handwritten texts, and sticky notes with brief statements left by the exhibition’s public. Through this form, threads of conversations emerge and the exhibition’s public is implicated in a meaning production process that is initiated but not solely determined by the artist. In this way, the artist’s [pro]position confronts those of his ‘participants’ (the photographed subjects) and audiences: the outcomes of which may be antithetical, complementary, or perhaps even, indifference.
*”See Me See You” showed at the Nubuke Foundation/gallery from the 26th of November 2016 to the 28th February 2017.
– Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh is an artist who lives and works in Kumasi, Ghana.