Yaw Owusu demonstrates the transformative tendencies of copper coins by reimagining them as both material and pallet. His recent work activates urgent questions around economic and political independence in Ghana.
These ‘pesewa’ coins, introduced in 2007 to cure inflation are now rarely used even in the lowest value trade as they are of almost no value in today’s financial climate. Typical of Owusu’s approach to working with local agencies to develop his work, the artist acquired the coins by negotiating with national banks — a bureaucratic process as important to the practice as the work itself.
The exhibition develops from earlier work, often large and monumental in scale, towards a series of jewel-like canvases with a unique sense of formality and randomness, but maintaining always a core body of geometric shapes and lines, commonly found on national flags and in structures in modernist architecture. Together they reflect the artist’s desire to constantly experiment with coins. Some sculptures have incorporated as many as twenty-four thousand coins, transformed under various conditions and processes - the bronzed coins undergoing natural and chemical treatments.
Drawn from the common saying ‘All that glitters is not gold’, Owusu’s new body of work is a meditation on the question of how value is made and unmade. As his work translates the coins from currency into the economy of the gallery system, they take on a new meaning altogether, and their new found status as tradable objects reveals the dynamics of money both metaphorically and literally.
Turning a seemingly “worthless” currency denomination into an object of intrinsic value, the work reflects upon the illusions of wealth, abundance and riches in contemporary Ghanaian society. As the saying suggests, these things can promise to be more than they really are, however by leaving the sentence unfinished, ‘All That Glitters’ is urging the viewer to reach their own conclusion.