Practice of Interest
Loose, fragmented and seeking
with Emma Prempeh
Currently governed by the intersection between relationships, selfhood and transformation, as played out in her reality, Emma Prempeh’s practice is introspective. In the dual presentation With Tenderness, currently showing at Tiwani Contemporary’s gallery in London, Prempeh and Abigail Lucien tackle the idea of time. Together the two artists’ practices work at examining time’s archival and cyclical capacity in addition to exploring its future potential. With the exhibition in its final week, we take the opportunity to learn about the artist’s heritage-linked references, influences, and position in the diasporic contemporary art scene for this week’s Of Interest.
There are layers to Emma Prempeh’s practice, process and presentations. Through a blend of oil, acrylic, iron powder and Schlag metal, working together with sculpture, installation and digital projection (all on canvas), the artist conducts her investigations of the messy intricacies of romantic, platonic, and domestic affinities. Like the self and its connections, the works are not static. Instead, with time, the metallic elements gradually oxidise to add a meta-narrative layer; an admittance of helplessness against the elements. An attempt to cling to memory while time apathetically moves on, the presentations document the search for a middle ground.
Relationships, selfhood, and transformation have been listed as the sensibilities governing your practice. With this in mind, would you tell me about the influences that informed the way you approached the exhibition With Tenderness considering the ways that it’s meant to address ideas around time?
The materials I use in my practice intentionally have a connection to memory and time. Both are quite temporal subjects that we can’t quite grasp and are almost fleeting creating fragility naturally. Developing my practice became a culmination of trying to find materials that represented this.
Figuration is something I’ve always loved to explore, and I made sure the materials I used complimented my skin tone, creating warm hues as the basis to my paintings. So when I heard the title With Tenderness for the first time, I really thought about moments that made me feel at ease. I spent a long-time making work about family over the past year and I wanted to delve deeper into my personal life. I wanted to portray the relationships I have with my closest friends, my partner, our pets and my mother.
It seems that time is a theme that interested you before the exhibition With Tenderness. Could you detail for me where and why your interest in themes of time (or rather the temporal) began?
Growing up I had one constant health issue involving my heart and as a child I never really understood what was happening to me, but I had this constant feeling of dread that I often thought about death at a young age. It made me yearn to understand why we exist and the intricacies of time. I found solace in absorbing information about the universe in order to quieten my thoughts about myself as it made my problems smaller. I wanted to understand why I was here, why I had the ailments I was faced with and what it means to be me. Art became a weapon to face the destructiveness of time, the thing that sweeps up our memories, gobbles up our hobbies and our relationships with other beings. My practice is the attempt to stamp myself within the grandness of the universe.
You work predominantly in painting but your works also incorporate sculptural, video and projection elements. Could you tell me more about what informed the way you have built your multidisciplinary practice?
When thinking about time and memory I think a lot about its fragmentation, how our memories are never quite whole and often skewed. I felt these ideas transcended the two dimensionality of my painted canvases. In the beginning I used video in addition to painting but over time the need to merge the two became more apparent. Through projection I felt I was able to finally describe visually the fluidity of time. Objects disappear and reappear, pulling viewers to lose themselves in the subjectivity of the past and the future. The projected works became a distraction albeit in a small way to think less about the finite nature of things.
Let’s take a few steps back from your practice and look at the overall contemporary art scene. You have been with Tiwani Contemporary for almost a year now, in this time, how would you describe the contemporary art scene from a diasporic point of view?
Exciting in the way we can connect. I’ve witnessed that more and more artists from the diaspora are connecting with artists from communities where their parents and grandparents are from to create a wider network of creative people. It’s great to see conversations being had between artists about the intricacies of the artworld that many may not have been able to access in the past. The Avant Garde artist is disappearing, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.