Icon of the Black British arts movement ‘Fowokan George Kelly’
Jamaican born sculptor ‘Fowokan George Kelly’, an icon of the Black British arts movement. Nearing 70, and showing no sign of curbing his passion for the arts or his dedication to encouraging the next generation of Black artists, Fowokan, a true ‘Elder’ of the UK black art scene.
George Kelly was born in Kingston Jamaica on 1 April 1943 and exhibits under the name Fowokan (a Yoruba word meaning, one who creates with the hand). He is mainly self-taught and has been a practising sculptor working in the figurative tradition since the late 1970s.
Coming to the visual arts late in life Fowokan deliberately chose not to be trained in western art institutions as he felt they could not teach him what he wanted to know. “They were too deeply entrenched in their own traditions with little or no understanding or interest in the things that interested me most, which are the ideas that lie behind the art and culture of Africa”, says Fowokan.
The philosophical aspect of his work came through a deep intuition and travels through various parts of Africa, exploring the spiritual side of his ancestral/ spiritual home; this was his art school and university. The intuitive/spiritual aspect of reality he believes still abounds in Africa. He sees African art not art in the western sense but creations associated with religion, magic and ritual.
The encounter between the African and the European has brought about deep rooted spiritual and mental conflicts at the core of the African, along with the belief that the African is nothing more than “the reflection of a primitive and barbarous mentality.” He believes that this point of view cannot be left unchallenged, and that art has an important role to play in the struggle to define and redefine a contemporary African world-view.
In today’s African artists’ work we must see the eyes and hands of the contemporary artist, looking anew, not at, but through the prism of an African aesthetic, speaking in a new world with the voices of the ancestors; voices for so long silenced; in doing so, their art will offer new generations the opportunity to look again with fresh eyes, to see themselves in new ways.
Fowokan has received commissions to produce works for the South Bank Spring Festival, Marcus Garvey Centenary celebrations and the African People’s Historical Monument Foundation.
Fowokan has exhibited at the Studio Museum Harlem, the British Museum and the Royal Academy, London. His sculptures are in collections such as the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Harvard University, the University of the West Indies, Unilever and Marcus Garvey Park, as well as in private collections in various parts of the world.