Meet Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, the sculptor behind the 7,000 faces of dead African-American slaves

Stephen Nartey August 22, 2022
Faces of the Dead sculpted by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. Photo: Twitter/Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

He wants the world to perceive him as a cultural activist and not only as the sculptor behind the portraits of the millions of victims of transatlantic slavery.

His goal is to sculptor eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven portraits of the dead and life sites that represent the shared pain of the victims of slavery.

Speaking to Face2Face Africa in a telephone interview, Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, a Ghanaian sculptor, said he has only met 10 percent of the project target that seeks to create portraits of Africans trafficked, kidnapped and forced into slavery.

“Now I have over close to 2,000 life sites. It has not gone as quickly as I envisaged because I have been working on my own museum. Engagements in the US and Germany also seem to have taken part of my time. But, I have miniature faces of over 5, 000,” he revealed.

These installations can be found in Kwame’s Nkyinkyim museum at Nuhalenya in Ada, a coastal community in the West African nation of Ghana.

Nkyinkyim is home soul-gripping artwork telling the story of African heritage. The faces hold one message – the trials and social injustice African ancestral slaves endured while being shipped and drowning in the Atlantic Ocean.

Below is an excerpt of his interview with Face2Face Africa shortly after holding the Nkyinkyim festival to promote Africanism.

What inspires your activism which is demonstrated in your art?

It is mostly to give a voice to our people who are fighting for racial justice and equity. I see myself as a cultural activist and that feeds directly into what I do. I seek to empower our people using our culture and roots. Basically, this is what I do. The African enslavement is just part of the bigger puzzle.

In 2018, you exhibited your art during a memorial for the peace and justice project in Alabama, what message were you seeking to push across with the work?

I had started my project before I was invited by Brian Stephenson, a very strong activist. He has been one of the backbones of my work at the Lincoln University. I have over 200 works there. With regard to your question, at the time I was invited, I didn’t know it would span a continuous collaboration because it was a one-time commission. The museum wanted to tell the story of lynching and racial justice in America. They wanted to begin with the story of the enslaved because I have history with African enslavement. I did my best to include as much symbolism and details to it by tying it to my works here in Ghana. Most of my works are titled Nkyinkyim because I believe they tell one story. When you visit the Lincoln University, you would notice I have three or four series of work all entitled Nkyinkyim. At the time I wanted to put a sculpture that expanded beyond the six figure at the entrance of the memorial, and it worked. The work became the face of the museum. When the museum was unveiled in 2018, we have been collaborating since then because of the work I did.

It’s claimed you have sculptured over 1,300 faces of victims of the slavery, have exceeded this number or it still stands at that figure?

Definitely, now I have over close to 2,000 life sites. It has not gone as quickly as I envisaged because I have been working on my own museum. Engagements in the US and Germany also seem to have taken part of my time. But, I have miniature faces of over 5,000. The number has increased. If you saw what I was doing earlier, I was aiming for 11,111 sculptors not necessarily only of the enslaved. For me, it is only the beginning. I am only around 10 percent of the figure I want to do. I also work on intangible culture heritage. For the past six years, I have been sponsoring educational programmes, anything from drumming and dancing, to masquerades, storytelling, indigenous art works among others.

I know these faces don’t look alive, what’s are the running themes behind faces?

It just one continuous message, and the faces vary because considering the number of people kidnapped and trafficked, we are looking at 10 million plus, and if I have 2,000 faces and 5,000 miniatures, it is actually inadequate for what I wish to express.

What does the future look like?

It’s about people taking what we do seriously. I am looking at young artists being inspired to take up their own projects. It’s a herculean task for one person to take on both financial and activism. I happen to be in good position to employ but it is not same for others. It is possible for us to get to a place where artists will be recognized in nation building. It is not only about fighting for black rights, because I have done that with my blank plate at the US, but, the bigger message is to have governments and parents to invest heavily in the arts.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 22, 2022


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