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Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe: You're in America

Interview by Shaquille Heath

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe wants you to feel seen. And I mean that sincerely. It is at the heart of what he does. In every brushstroke, every flower, every mouth covered and eyeball exposed. He is methodical. A powerful narrator, he documents Black life by painting subject’s likeness, enriched with flourishes from his personal memory bank. It is almost historical fiction, yet his instincts are spot on. 

After moving to Portland in 2017 from his home in Ghana, Quaicoe was awakened by a baptism in good ol’ American racism, which inspired his first solo exhibition in the U.S., Black Like Me. He aimed to find himself in the richness of Black people around him, to pay tribute to Black existence in a country that actively works to negate it. Showing at Roberts Projects in LA, it may be the only documented kindness bestowed by 2020, finishing its run just a week before the pandemic lockdown. Quaicoe and I spoke at the end of a tireless summer, one which started with righteous black boxes, yet ended with a deluge of lip service. Still, Quaicoe prevails through the stagnation. Regardless of the outcome, he’s found new protest on canvas, and his mission remains the same. No matter how you found him, he’s glad you just might start to understand.