x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The story of telling art

The last part in our summer series sees Amartey Golding working from his resident studio in Tashkeel. We meet him to find out about his forthcoming solo show.

British artist Amartey Golding is preparing for his solo show in the UAE. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
British artist Amartey Golding is preparing for his solo show in the UAE. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

On any given day over the next couple of months at Tashkeel studio hub in Dubai, a keen observer will find Adolf Hitler, Homer Simpson, Cornel West, Barack Obama, Ernest Hemmingway and James Baldwin all sharing a room.

Amartey Golding chose these recognisable faces, in no particular order, to feature in his forthcoming solo show of drawings, set to open in October.

"They are just random characters," he explains. "They don't play themselves; they are just the stories of our time, from history and from the media that I am adopting to tell my story."

Golding, 25, is one of two international artists who is completing a full year's residency at Tashkeel in the Guest Artist Programme. He is a British artist from London who first started exhibiting his large-scale charcoal drawings in Dubai six years ago with Showcase Gallery. At the time, he was studying architecture in London and by his own admission, "didn't really have time to think about what I was doing or why - or to push it any further".

However, after meeting the team at Tashkeel last year when he was commissioned to create the images on the new skate ramp, he was offered the residency and saw it as a chance to "interrogate myself and sort out my trajectory".

He has therefore spent the last few months fine- tuning his interests, experimenting with different ideas and working out exactly what it is he is trying to say.

"I come here every day from as early as I can wake up until they kick me out at night. I work as much as I can," he says. "I don't understand why I would be anywhere else - this is what I came to do."

Talking to Golding in the final stages of the programme, it seems that all the hard work has paid off. As he prepares for his October show that will mark the end of his residency, Golding is now ready to tell his story.

"I have always been interested in stories," he says. "They play such a part in everything we do as people.

"When you think about it, everything is a story, even history. Also, what really interests me is that we, as humans, cannot properly recall something that has happened. You can be as unbiased as you want to but your memory will not recall anything accurately - you relate to other things, you cannot help but impose your own internal story. So in a way, everything we know, all recollections or all of history, is the product of someone else's imagination. Basically, reality is a communal imagination and that is what my work is about."

This explains, to some extent, the gathering of characters as diverse as Hitler and Homer but to really get into the depths of the printed drawings, which are made from a laborious technique called dry point, you must ask Golding to explain the elaborate story he has composed for them.

"My dad died five years ago and it had quite a big effect on me," he says as a precursor. "When he died, all the people in his life came and started telling stories about him. Everyone had such different accounts about who this guy was and that was the catalyst for my work now.

"With a story you can question everything, so for this show I developed a story in response to my dad's death and I exaggerated the responses I had to all those stories being told."

After a lengthy period of reading, research and self-reflection, Golding came up with a "crazy mythological tale" of a man who collects seeds and lives in a city in the centre of a luscious forest. When a sudden drought strikes, the forest begins to die and all the people in the city suffer, so the seed-collector calls secret nightly meetings for the men to discuss a plan of action. Inspired by the way a woman gives birth, the men decide to plant the seeds and then kill themselves so that their decaying bodies fertilise the soil. When the women find out, they cry over the dead and so the forest is replenished.

Although dark, the story is strangely touching, and the fact that Golding does not plan to share it at the exhibition (only to those inquisitive enough to ask) shows that this artist is working for the sake of the art itself, and the enquiring process it involves.

"I am happy to have reached this point and to continue to explore from here," he concludes as he works on his latest piece. As for the place he has called home for the last year? He says it is a lifesaver. "I couldn't live here if it wasn't for Tashkeel - it is the best place in Dubai for creative people, hands down and without a doubt. There should be a thousand more in the Middle East."


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