“I photographed this series as a requiem of my memories.” Carlos Idun-Tawiah (b. 1997) is a Ghanaian photographer and filmmaker based in Accra. Inspired by the country’s rich photographic archives, the artist seeks to remark and reimagine the ever-changing landscapes of Black life. His photographs are characterised by themes according to community, hope, love and tradition. Through fictionalised photographic stories, Idun-Tawiah is committed to carefully accenting Black beauty and depth, by telling stories with clarity and grace. Sunday Special (2022), on view now at Galerie Huit Arles, was inspired by a close study of family albums, revisiting memories of growing up in a Christian and Ghanaian family.
Idun-Tawiah’s photographs bear a quiet intimacy. In one image, a group of sisters huddle together in a living room, adjusting and preening each other’s hairstyles and outfits. In another, a young boy lifts his face to the side, allowing a barber to shave his head. These pictures are complex tableaux, rich in colour and detail, transporting viewers from sunny courtyards to turquoise kitchens. Undertones of studio photography, such as the work of Seydou Keïta (b. 1921) and Malick Sidibé (b. 1936), are traceable in the artist’s practice. There is a sense of history at play, advocated by a rigorous and and biographical eye, namely one who values the importance of preservation. Simultaneously, however, these images possess a delicacy and rawness that evokes the palette of Clifford Prince King (b. 1993). Moments of devotion, laughter and grief further contribute to a poetic and lyrical quality that is reminiscent of Erich Asamoah’s (b. 1999) Forever Lasts Until It Ends (2021), a series that focuses on the coming-of-age experiences of young men in Ghana.
“I tried to highlight the ethos of Sundays from a much more vernacular perspective. I played with visual nostalgia, juxtapositions, color and gesture to fully extract the roundedness of the traditions of what Sundays typically felt like in Ghana. [I was] also being conscious of blurring the lines between sanctity and our humanity, and underscoring the idea of how community and divinity could exist in one place. My joy is to have everyone who sees this go back in time one way or the other; to incite that delight that can only be found when we look back; to provoke the sweet joys of what our memories could best serve us.” Idun-Tawiah is interested in both the individual and the collective. He pronounces this in his commitment to storytelling – as he constructs entire characters and narratives through immersive costume, set-design and period-details. As Nana Oforiatta Ayim writes in Aperture, “He conjures visceral recollections held in his memory yet out of reach, […] his subjects freely inhabit the roles they are playing.” These are lived histories.
In June 2023, the work was selected as a winning series for OpenWalls Arles vol.4, a collaboration between the British Journal of Photography and Galerie Huit Arles. Entrants were asked to respond to the theme of “Truth,” in an open call that encouraged work on subjectivity, political realities and self-actualisation. Idun-Tawiah joins single-image winners such as Julia Gunther, (b. 1979), who presents a portrait of Eunice, a deaf tailor from Southern Malawi, as well as Heather Agyepong’s b. (1990), Too Many Blackamoors (#4) (2015), that uses concealed portraiture to challenge the expectations Black women face. Photography here, is used to depict real events, as it also pushes imaginative boundaries. Sunday Special blends personal and shared experiences, as it sheds light on family, memory and what it means to belong.
galeriehuitarles.com | Until 23 September
Words: Chloe Elliott
Sunday Special ©Carlos Idun-Tawiah, Courtesy of Galerie Huit Arles & British Journal of Photography