Serge Attukwei Clottey - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I’m always looking at how materials can significantly influence a work, and how it fits in the ideas I explore […] instead of using paint to design the dresses of the characters, I use a material, [like duct tape] that will let me cut and join materials like the designers, tailors and seamstresses do in their shops and fashion houses.' 
    —Serge Attukwei Clottey

    Fashion, fabric, and its ability to make and remake identity lies at the heart of Accra-based Serge Attukwei Clottey’s interdisciplinary practice. Working across painting, performance, installation, photography, and sculpture Clottey explores the powerful agency of everyday objects, and the ways in which they intersect with personal and collective histories. Belonging to the artist’s ongoing series of Duct Tape Paintings first presented at the 2020 exhibition Beyond Skin hosted by Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles, Glow Girl is a bold and beautiful illustration of Clottey’s experimental approach to materials, and his ability to charge them with meaning and significance in his graphically simple yet highly striking portraits of African self-possession. 


    The Importance of Materials

    Composed from carefully selected strips of duct-tape arranged across cork boards, Glow girl, makes powerful use of everyday objects, notably the playful inclusion of a tape measure trim that edges the central figure's blouse. A prominent feature of Clottey's practice more broadly, repurposed materials form the conceptual foundation for his 'Afrogallonism' movement. Drawing attention to global inequalities and the geopolitical ethics of consumerism, Clottey describes the movement as an ‘artistic intervention’, whereby Clottey and his community-based arts collective GoLokal use reclaimed materials to create elaborate costumes and sculptural assemblages in their politically charged installation and performances. Of particular significance are the ubiquitous yellow jerrycans, originally intended for importing oil and now a potent symbol of water scarcity in the region. Clottey’s sustained engagement with the discarded material draws together a discussion about the origins and management of plastic waste in Ghana with the complex legacies of colonialism. 

    'If I can make people think with my work, break down those stereotypes, then perhaps more change will come.'
    —Serge Attukwei Clottey 

    Similarly, the duct tape and cork used to such novel effect here are rooted in the politics and lived experience of the region. Sometimes used as a tool of oppression and violence against the Black body, Clottey’s use of duct tape is pointed. In using it to create the bold and highly patterned attire of the three women in Glow girl, the artist transforms the material into a symbol of pride, self-determination and protection as it traces, celebrates and works with their bodies rather than used against them. Referencing the community notice boards that operate as important sites of exchange and transmission of information for the good of Clottey’s local community in Accra, the cork boards are highly symbolic and emotionally resonant objects for the artist. Moreover, in their warmth, textural qualities and specific tone ‘which can change with exposure to the sun [cork] mimics the look of Black skin’.i


    Detail of the present work 

    Fashion and Performance 

    Fabric and costume also occupy a central place in Clottey’s performance practice, a fascination with the aesthetics of display that extends into his multi-media portraits, as is evident in the bright, bold use of pattern, colour contrasts, and confident exuberance of Glow girl. In 2016, Clottey and members of his collective took to the streets dressed in the clothes traditionally worn by Ghanaian women, including stunning examples of the handwoven Kente cloth which holds a special significance for the Ashanti people. Titled My Mother’s Wardrobe this procession performance addressed gendered traditions existing around death and inheritance in Ghana whereby Clottey, as an only son, was not allowed to inherit his mother’s wardrobe. A protest against tradition, it also highlighted entrenched ideas about gender and sexuality within that society. Drawing attention to the ways in which fabrics act as a very literal form of material history, in Glow girl Clottey uses the proximity of textiles and fashion to identity and the construction of the self as a vehicle for challenging cultural norms. 

    In their vibrant blend of Ghanaian tradition and 70s cool, the three women in in Glow girl remain fully in command of their own image. Radiating confidence and a self-possessed sensuality in their exaggerated poses and outrageously loud outfits, the figures recall the ‘cool realism’ pioneered by Barkley L. Hendricks’ portraits which brought ‘the attitude of musicians […], the iconic style of old-world European painting, and the everyday Black folks he knew from the neighbourhood’ together in his own, unique visual style.  Sharing in the same vivid sense of colour and bold presentation of the figure, both Hendricks and Clottey show a keen understanding for the visual language of fashion, and the historical uses that it has been put to, appropriating these symbols as powerfully expressive tools for the representation of Black identity.


    Engaging with a specifically West African history of visual and material culture, Clottey’s portraits also take cues from mid-century black and white photographs as means not only of rethinking the past through the lens of the present, but of scrutinising the legacy of colonialism and interrogating embedded notions of gender and sexuality in the present day. In its emphasis on pattern and contrast, Glow girl particularly draws on the work of mid-century Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, Sanlé Sorly, and fellow Ghanian James Barnor, whose combination of street and studio photography spanning the middle decades of the century introduced the world to a culturally vibrant Africa in the process of redefining itself on its own terms. Employing bold fabrics with vibrant, contrasting patterns these photographs provide a clear visual touchstone for Clottey’s compositional arrangement, juxtaposition of pattern, and playful confusion of the spatial relationships between figure and ground. More pressingly though, in redefining the African subject outside of the gaze of the coloniser in joyous and artful ways, these mid-century photographs align with Clottey’s highly articulate interest in the role played by social media in shaping the stories that young Africans tell about themselves, their communities, and their continent.


    Seydou Keïta, Untitled, 1952 – 55, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. Image: © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston / Museum purchase funded by Joan Morgenstern in honor of Louis Lechenger / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Seydou Keïta/SKPEAC -  Courtesy The Jean Pigozzi African Art Collection

    Collector’s Digest

    •    Based in Accra, Ghana, Serge Attuwkei Clottey is one of the region’s most significant contemporary artists who works across various mediums in his exploration of ideas around migration, identity, materiality, and the environment.

    •    Receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Brighton in 2019, Clottey has exhibited widely internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include Gallery 1957 in both London and Accra, Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles, Feuer/Mesler in New York and Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium Foundation, Oslo.  

    •    In October 2021 Clottey’s first duct-tape painting was presented at Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale where it sold for more than 10 times its low estimate. 

    i Beyond Skin press release, Simchowitz Gallery, 2021, online. 
    ii Antwaun Sargent, Rarely Seen Barkley Hendricks Paintings Show Early Talent as Portraitist of “Black Cool”’, Artsy, 16 August 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Simchowitz, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection


Glow girl

signed and dated 'Attukwei Clottey 2021' on the reverse
oil and duct tape on cork board
193 x 124.5 cm (75 7/8 x 49 in.)
Executed in 2020-2021.

Full Cataloguing

£30,000 - 40,000 

Sold for £151,200

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022