x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The allure of making up stories

Golding’s solo show Gabosia reveals his fascinating imagination.

Amartey Golding works on a mixed-media piece at Tashkeel in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
Amartey Golding works on a mixed-media piece at Tashkeel in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

When Amartey Golding’s exhibition opens on Wednesday, he will be introducing us to the fictional world of Gabosia. The show is named after Gabos, the antagonist in a long and complicated story that Golding began fabricating after the death of his father and that is now so real and intricately detailed that even the artist is struggling to separate fact from fiction.

“I’ve always been interested in stories and the way they affect everything we do. When you think about it, stories are everywhere and we relate to them because we see ourselves in them. Mythology is all about that and it’s the same when we watch a film – we relate to the protagonist and then that becomes us and then we are the heroes of our own story. That’s what I’m really interested in.”

Cue Gabos. The egotistical, back-stabbing anti-hero is charged with overseeing the land of Gabosia but when crisis hits, he cares only for himself and lets others suffer. His exact opposite is a man known only as The Seed Collector who, when drought strips the land of sustenance, sacrifices his own body to fertilise the soil while the tears of the women irrigate it.

This is just a snippet of the labyrinthian story that Golding has created as a silent backdrop to the exhibition. It is a practice he calls “new mythology” but rather than spell out the tale for viewers of the exhibition, he leaves the subject open to interpretation.

Also key to Golding’s style is the use of a plethora of celebrities and historical figures to represent his characters. For example, in one image Barack Obama, Cornell West and Tony Benn become three Buddhist monks who are inverted; in another, four floating decapitated heads are laughing.

“The catalyst for all of this was my dad dying and death is one of those things that you can’t really explain. That is why my images surround the subject of death and are ambiguous,” says Golding. “I was finding refuge in stories when my dad died and now I have taken that idea and explored it further.”

Another image depicts the kissing heads of Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo, who were sentenced to the second circle of hell by Dante in his Divine Comedy in the 14th century and immortalised by Rodin in his sculpture The Kiss in 1889. Here Golding has freed them from their punishment in a liberating embrace.

“I finished off the story that Dante started all that time ago that was actually a real story that became fiction. The audience won’t understand that when they see the print, unless they are very well read, but they can go and look it up afterwards and go on their own journey and I love that.”

The 20 prints in Gabosia are made from a labour-intensive technique called dry point using a sharp needle-like pen to scratch the image carefully into a piece of polypropylene plastic before rubbing ink into the grooves and removing the ink in parts to create shading. It takes many hours to perfect the plate, which is then printed onto special paper soaked to make it absorb the image.

“There is a certain amount of loss of control with this type of work,” explains Golding. “You can put yourself in a bracket and choose the right elements but in the end, you don’t quite know how it will turn out. It is the same with the content of the work.”

In another image, Michael Adebolajo, the man who was arrested in South London earlier this year for hacking a soldier to death with a meat cleaver, takes on the character of Oedipus. “Oedipus is a dark story of a guy who sees a prophecy and by trying to avoid it, he seals his own fate and I see similarities between the stories because what he was protesting against became worse after his actions. It is different but it is the same story.”

The tales behind each print go on and on as Golding takes himself and the viewer through layers of meaning and interpretation.

Although the images are not beautiful and the references might not be completely obvious, the show has been well-crafted and shows great progression of an idea, which is the point of giving an artist the space and time for a residency. For this reason and to witness the creativity of a visual storyteller, you should take the time out to visit.

• Gabosia runs from Wednesday until November 7 at Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba, Dubai

aseaman@thenational.ae