Vincent Frimpong interprets African
Diasporic experience in ceramics
By Kate Mothes
“Over the course of my life, I’ve been exploring the question, ‘What does it mean to be an African?’ Affirming the core of African power within myself and others permeates everything I do,” says Vincent Frimpong, who interprets memories, experiences, and symbolic gestures into mixed media sculptures and installations that exude strength and fellowship. Currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Arkansas, his work centers around ceramics, incorporating found objects like tires, electronics, or domestic utensils and challenging perceptions of Blackness and African identity in a predominantly white region that continues to grapple with the legacy of slavery and racial persecution.
Born in Accra and raised in Kumasi, Ghana, Frimpong is interested in discovering aspects of his own culture that he began to appreciate more once he was at a distance from it. “It’s easy to accept your culture as absolute, but living in another country can help inform your point of view on your home culture, allowing you to develop your language,” he says. His experiences moving to the U.S. shape how he views place and its relationship to mind, body, and spirit.
At the core of what Frimpong wants to communicate is strength, power, and resiliency. Referencing the emotional and physical labor over centuries of colonization, enslavement, and oppression of African peoples by Europeans, he focuses on the body as the catalyst for translating layered stories. Iconic symbols of resistance like the clenched fist or peace sign appear repeatedly throughout his works in casts of the artist’s own arms, legs, and feet. Repetition plays an important role in representing diverse stories, memories, and experiences. He says:
The repetition of molding and casting my body is how I challenge the Eurocentric ideas of perfection and cleanliness. [I take] out the mold when it is not dry, using my combination of mark-making and found objects to attach more meaning to each body part. This is a way for me to expand what it means to be in conversation with my own body and the bodies of all Africans, which are a vital part of maintaining a culture and visual legacy.
In Bearing Arm, an intricately scarified shoulder extends to a clenched fist holding a fly whisk. The title plays on the capacity to hold tightly onto cultural and ancestral traditions, while also evoking associations with the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment that states the “right of the people to keep and bear arms,” which has caused considerable debate and divide about gun control in the country for decades.
The outstretched arm of Lady Liberty, who stands in New York Harbor as a universal symbol of freedom and hope, appears in Untitled (The Weight of Liberty), perched on a scale as if being weighed like a cut of meat, encircled by casts of hands making symbolic gestures and pigmented with an array of skin tones. He asks, what price must be paid, and what does “liberty for all” really entail? “The fear of being misrepresented fuels how I translate my story as an African and Ghanaian immigrant to the United States,” he says. “I must share my pride and ensure that my story is adapted through my artistic practice so the world can hear my story. The diversity of Africa is vast and deep; to share this culture is a fundamental goal of mine.”
“‘What does it mean to be an African?’ Affirming the core of African power within myself and others permeates everything I do.”
“The repetition of molding and casting my body is how I challenge the Eurocentric ideas of perfection and cleanliness.”
All images © Vincent Frimpong. Photographs by Larissa Ramey and Claire Brassil.