Oscillating between strong waves of trauma, despair and jubilation, Ghanaian-British artist, Richard Mensah’s, Fluid Movement series, makes for a visually nauseating experience tempered only by moments of reprieve and respite.
On a stormy voyage across high seas, with no sight of land and safe passage until the very last nautical miles, just when hope and strength has been all but lost, Richard manages to masterfully steer his ship and crew to safety, as relief, and joy washes over the viewer, in place of the earlier anxiety and feelings of resignation.
Fluid Movement is by any stretch of the imagination a titular attempt by the artist for his debut solo exhibition. Seeking to explore and reconcile aquatic themes that relate to the black diasporan experience, stemming as far back as the 17th century and the transatlantic slave trade, to issues that plague us today; namely the global mental health epidemic and the migration crisis, Richard’s effort not only pays off, but pays dividends.
Navigating between motifs of drowning, as they pertain to both the feeling of being overwhelmed, typical of depression, but more significantly as it relates the actual physical act of being pulled beneath the waves of the Atlantic ocean as millions of enslaved Africans were, speaks poignantly to the residual trauma that still looms over generations of black people today.
In a masterstroke of creative ingenuity and subtlety,Richard reminds the viewer in pieces such as ‘Lost of Self I’ and ‘Lost of SelfII’, that whilst these traumas and tragic events may have first occurred centuries ago, they are by no means ‘water under the bridge’ and to be relegated as a part of a dark, and long forgotten history, but still very much exist today. This point is exemplified and manifested in issues such as today’s migration and refugee crisis, in which perilous and fateful journeys across theAtlantic to the West are still being made, and resulting in death and turmoil, as a direct consequence of decisions made across the capitals of Europe andNorth America.
Richard finally offers a much needed glimmer of hope and a life jacket to the possibilities of overcoming and triumphing over the past and existing dark associations with water, in his depictions of success and jubilation in pieces such as ‘Pool Runnings’, ‘Brotherhood’ and perhaps most significantly ‘Last Dance’ and ‘The Returned King’.
In both ‘Pool Runnings’ and ‘Brotherhood’, Richard subverts the negative connotations of not only the trauma associated with water for black people, chiefly American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS), but also the out dated and unfounded stereotype that ‘black people can’t swim’.
‘Last Dance’ and ‘The Returned King’ offer a full circle and watershed moment in the depiction of black people, once forcibly taken from their motherland, their families, heritage, language, and customs, to finally return voluntarily, under their own steam, almost 400 years later to a near heroes welcome. There’s a great sense of poetic justice that brings homeRichard’s masterful series, and an enduring sense of optimism that better days lie ahead, in spite of the horrors of the past, and the troubles of the present.