Serge Attukwei Clottey

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.

The name of one of his great-great grandfathers, Nii Tetteh Nteni, hangs above an awning in Attukwei’s studio space like an incantation. “My ancestors sold alcohol and meat to the people of Labadi,” he continues, recalling his seafaring family history, pointing out that “Nteni” signifies “liquor” in the Ga language of the coastal people of Ghana. “When they got to the shore, they transported the alcohol with these plastic gallons.”

The gallons to which he refers are the ubiquitous yellow gallon containers, or jerrycans, found all over Ghana. “These are imported oil containers. When they get here, we pour the oil out and, after, use the container for something else.” To Attukwei and the citizens of Ghana, they are stark reminders of Africa’s lopsided trade relationship with the West. And as the country’s fortunes improve and even the poorest homes acquire indoor plumbing, the yellow cans are outstaying their welcome. “Plastic has a long life span. How do we deal with that?” Attukwei asks, pointing out the massive environmental implications of the cans. For him, the omnipresent yellow plastic became a canvas to be drilled, stitched, and painted upon, hacking the jerrycans to craft conceptual masks and large-scale art installations conspicuously staged in Accra’s public spaces.

Resettlement, relocation, and repatriation: Attukwei obsesses over these themes because he has seen the difference even a slight change of course can make. As a child, his father, himself a painter, enrolled Attukwei in art school while simultaneously trying to discourage his son’s interest in electronics. “I would play with toys meant for little white children. I got interested in playing with gadgets, fixing broken radios, trying to understand how things were built,” he remembers. “My dad told me that I was a black boy and I could not invent. I should just do art—draw nicely, sell, and make money.”

But that explanation didn’t satisfy Attukwei. At some point, he combined his interests, creating art installations that incorporated light and sound. His father rebuffed his mixed media experimentation, as did a number of local galleries, but Attukwei continued to labor. This refusal to accept restrictive norms has come to be characteristic of his resilient spirit and dedication to exploring what resonates with him, both as a citizen and as an artist.

To that, public participation has become fundamental to Attukwei’s work. He founded the GoLokal performance art collective in Ghana, hoping to bring art closer to the people and, most importantly, promote community development. In 2012, during the country’s elections, GoLokal carried out a particularly pointed performance as political commentary—well-dressed participants acting as wealthy politicians dragging a bound Attukwei through the streets by a noose, a sign saying “YOUTH” hanging around his chest. National news sources played the footage on their broadcasts for a week.

“When I first [moved to Labadi], I was doing my art in private,” Attukwei says. “After my performances started being aired on television, people began approaching me, asking if they could participate.” Not only was he encouraging his community, showing them that they could have a very public voice in a national arena, but his process benefited as well. Now, Attukwei employs a team of five eager young men who help bring his visions to life, remarking that “[the guys] make the production easier. Now, I can take a week to create a huge piece.”

Even the process his team undertakes for each piece has became a performance in itself. “We go to dump sites and buy the gallons. Then we transport them to the studio on our backs. We don’t use cars.” Attukwei enjoys enthralling and involving people on the streets by turning even mundane tasks into a spectacle.

It all fits into his Afrofuturist statement of intent: “Afrogallonism”. Through art, he argues, the faulty economic relationship between Africa and the West can be upended. “Afrogallonism is about pushing back to the West what they left behind,” Attukwei says. Fittingly, the creations Attukwei is currently making explore this very idea, and will be on display for his upcoming solo exhibition at recently-opened dual galleries Feuer/Mesler and Mesler/Feuer in New York. And while he’s excited for his show in the U.S., he remains committed to making sure his work and the dialogue he’s seeking to provoke are present outside the more exclusive world of art galleries and private collections. For Attukwei, the art should be about the people, and for the people.

“It’s a cycle: It comes as an oil container, I turn it into art. It goes back and serves a different purpose. Then, we benefit.”


We've all felt lonely at some point in our lives. It's a human experience as universal as happiness, sadness or even hunger. But there's been a growing trend of studies and other evidence suggesting that Americans, and people in general, are feeling more lonely than ever.

It's easy to blame technology and the way our increasingly online lives have further isolated us from "real" human interactions. The Internet once held seemingly limitless promise for bringing us together but seems to be doing just the opposite.

Except that's apparently not true at all. A major study from Cigna on loneliness found that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise amongst Americans but the numbers are nearly identical amongst those who use social media and those who don't. Perhaps more importantly, the study found five common traits amongst those who don't feel lonely.

Keep Reading Show less

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News

Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less

Facebook: kktv11news

A post on the Murdered by Words subreddit is going viral for the perfect way a poster shut down a knee-jerk "double-standard!" claim.

It began when a Redditor posted a 2015 Buzzfeed article story about a single dad who took cosmetology lessons to learn how to do his daughter's hair.

Most people would see the story as something positive. A dad goes out of his way to learn a skill that makes his daughter look fabulous.

Keep Reading Show less