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Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe

By Kate Caruso for Artillery

When I talk with Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, his smiling face lights up the video conference window as he speaks of joy.  He hopes to bring joy to the subjects of his portraits, and to those that view them.  Picking up the range of tonality in Blackness, his portraits demand attention with a quiet yet confrontational gaze.  He talks a lot about empowerment which is registered in the stately and real postures of his sitters, who apperar before us like subjects in court portraiture.

Hailing from Ghana, one of the fashion capitals of Africa that is known for its unique textile production, Quaicoe’s emphasis on clothing is strong. “Our textiles have names printed on the bottom, which are like proverbs, so when people are buying cloth they look at the proverb,” he says. “If that proverb doesn’t fit their character, they don’t buy it. They go for color, design—and also the proverb.” The significance of clothing in his work considers the beliefs to which we subscribe and how we express them in our clothing. Quaicoe wields this self-expression to make us question our own associations, particularly regarding color and gender. Central to his work is being an African in America, contemplating the ways in which we are the same and how we differentiate ourselves.