The Afrofuturist performance artist reclaiming Ghana’s trash into socio-political art
Artist Serge Attukwei Clottey gestures around the cramped back room of his workshop in Accra, Ghana. Intricate lattice sheaths litter the space: the ones rolled up on the floor are mostly yellow and red tangles of plastic; the stringy matrix hanging by the door is a black mesh of interwoven rubber. What others consider useless scraps, Attukwei sees as a bevy of supplies. “My materials are what society has left behind, what people see as discarded,” he says. “The process I put it through isn’t recycling. But I change the function. It becomes valuable.”
The journey from garbage to gallery piece is central to the overarching narrative of Attukwei’s art, in part because his own ancestral story is one rife with voyages. In the past, he says, the Clottey clan was known to travel to the northern part of Ghana and return to the coast with voodoo. When the chief of Labadi, now one of Accra’s renowned beach towns, needed to be spiritually fortified for an impending skirmish against a rival township, it was the Clotteys’ mysticism he called upon. In return, they were rewarded with land—from Attukwei’s studio located on Labadi Beach Road, minutes from the water’s edge, to the oceanfront. “That is how we migrated here,” he says.