“Yellow is the Colour of Water” is a multi-site exhibition project staged by the artist Jeremiah Quarshie in collaboration with curator Robin Riskin. Based out of Gallery 1957 at the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City, Accra, the exhibition maps out to a network of site-specific interventions, taking place at the Tema Station lorry park and Kotoka International Airport. The body of work revolves around questions of water and its flows through the city of Accra, as embodied through the ubiquitous yellow “Kufuor” gallons used to store and carry it. Harmonies and contradictions surrounding the vital resource of water are produced through poetics of potential.
A series of paintings presents the gallons as thrones, and the common characters who sit upon them as queens. The “Kufuor gallons” act as object and backdrop alike, framing the scene and multi-functioning as chairs, props, stage-set, and sometimes subject. Quarshie playfully inverts portraiture from a hegemonic apparatus of the elite, to a tool for raising critical questions about conditions of the masses. Though the artist paints in a classical style, a tongue-in-cheek lightness conjures a mood of humour, whose sweet veneer is followed by a sharp kick.
Coursing out to the town, fabricated pipes intervene in currents of the city. They map out territory that has fluctuated between elite colonial oases, zones of Nkrumahist independence, and speculative corporate development projects. Like the women who pose as characters in the paintings, whose lived realities span many roles, places change from one thing into another, and sometimes back into themselves, but are reformed and made anew.
Curatorially, the exhibition aims to take painting as a political project, and the exhibition structure as grounds for inquiry and interrogation. The show presents multiple formats of painting, through not only pigments but material objects (stretched canvas, mounted billboard, sculptural pipes). Interventions take place over a series of sites—hotel gallery, public bus station, international airport. The process involves individuals and groups across various classes and sectors of labour. Audiences and players are implicated as hosts, collaborators, and participants. The Gallery that presents the project enters the picture as one of a constellation of points, whose territory, history and politics are equally called into question.
For the opening, the exhibition is temporarily displaced from the Gallery space of 1957 to a “Galleria” construction site across the way, where the skeleton of Kempinski’s imminent upscale shopping mall nears completion. Paintings and pipes inhabit exposed concrete; hang from bare-beamed ducts and channels. A space on the precipice of rebirth, its halls will soon be written over by the circulation of other goods and conglomerates. Is the artist’s work complicit in these systems, or does a subtle critique lie within its participation? Quarshie’s evanescent occupation is cast as kind of shadow, or an echo, whose presence will reverberate from seams of cement, and in recollections of minds and materials that may recall its traces.