Fowokan George Kelly
Welcome to my world
Jamaican Self Taught Sculptor
Fowokan – a name meaning “one who creates with the hand”’ in the West African language Yoruba – was born Kenness George Kelly in Jamaica in 1943 and migrated to England in 1957. A self-taught artist, he is known primarily for his striking sculpted busts but more recently has experimented with the manipulation of digital images.
He cites his inspiration as his ancestral history and culture of pre-colonial Africa and ancient Egypt, noting that he purposefully eschewed western art institutions and their prevailing cultural teachings. Inspired to begin his artistic practice after visiting Benin, Nigeria, in the 1970s, he draws intuitively on aspects of mysticism and religion in African culture. He believes firmly in the restorative nature of art on the pan-African psyche and how traditions can be fused with contemporary art practice to offer a representational voice for those silenced by mainstream history.
Fowokan sculpts stoic and monumental busts in a wide variety of materials, often utilising the raw quality of these different mediums to enhance his distinct characterisation of the works.
Fowokan George Kelly
Fowokan George Kelly: Self-taught Sculptor, photographer, videographer, poet, writer
Fowokan’s new website is much reduced from his earlier, more expansive version which contained poetry, prose, videos, photographs and not only his works but that of other artists whose works lacked an online presence such as Ossie Murray, Raymond Watson and Desilu Banton. In its current form this new website only presents his works and this will change over time, so watch this space.
Sculptures by Fowokan have been exhibited in community galleries, national galleries such as London’s National Portrait Gallery and Royal Academy of Arts as well as overseas. Fowokan’s poetry and prose have been published and his work has featured on the front cover of books. His works are in private and public collections in the UK, Africa, Europe and the US and thousands viewed his first website weekly, which had more than 9,000,000 hits by June 2022.
What would inspire George to become the artist ‘Fowokan’, having spent the first 14 years of his life in a former slave colony, and how he has sustained over 50 years of artistic practice is the subject of the book, Becoming Fowokan: The Life and Works of Fowokan George Kelly (2022). It tells the story of his journey from East Queen Street Baptist Elementary School in Downtown Kingston, Jamaica to Geneva Road, Brixton in London, touring with ‘Cymande’ in the US and Jimmy Cliff in Nigeria, exhibiting with Ronald Moody; how Yoruba philosophy has underpinned his adult life, and becoming Fowokan, the sculptor, ‘settler’, not ‘immigrant’.
In addition to over 100 images of his artworks, Becoming Fowokan offers perceptions of the artist’s character and works through the lens of family members, childhood friends, eminent artists, curators, patrons and Professor Stuart Hall, his school teacher. His life story covers significant historical periods in the lives of Black people in Africa, the Caribbean and in the West; and the central one being the artistic as well as the literal journeys taken by this most loved and respected of sculptors (Eddie Chambers 2021).
Becoming Fowokan: The Life and Works of Fowokan George Kelly by Margaret Andrews, is Fowokan’s legacy for new generations – scholars young and old, artists, Black and White.
Available online from: www.drmtandrews84.com and bookshops: Black Cultural Archives in Brixton & Crofton Books in Brockley
Price: £25.00 (Excl. P&P)
Enquiries: Email: Booksbydrmtandrews@outlook.com
(Other works by Margaret Andrews include Doing Nothing Is Not An Option: The Radical Lives of Eric and Jessica Huntley published in 2014)
UK and International
- 1982: Brixton Art Gallery inaugural exhibition
- 1983: Creation for Liberation: Open Exhibition Contemporary Black Art in Britain, St Matthews Meeting, London
- 1984: Art in Exile, The Black Art Gallery, London
- 1985: From Generation to Generation, Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham. Installation by the OBAALA Arts Cooperative including David A. Bailey, Sonia Boyce, Shakka Dedi, George Kelly, and Keith Piper.
- 1985: New Horizons, Royal Festival Hall, London
- 1987: Three Dimensions, The Black Art Gallery, London
- 1989: Three Brixton Artists: Pearl Alcock, George Kelly, Michael Ross, 198 Gallery, London
- 1990: Havana Biennial, Cuba
- 1991: The Royal Academy of Art Summer Show, London
- 1994: Beyond My Grandfather’s Dreams, Jamaican High Commission, London
- 1997: Transforming the Crown, Studio Museum Harlem, New York
- 1999–2005: The Royal Academy of Art Summer Show, London, 1991
- 1999–2006: Society of Portrait Sculptors exhibition at The Gallery Cork Street, London
- 2007: Inhuman Traffic: The Business of the Slave Trade, The British Museum, London
- 2008: Hawkins & Co, Contemporary Urban Centre, Liverpool
- 2011: From Bronze to Gold Exhibition, Rich Mix, London
- 2015: No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960–1990, Guildhall Art Gallery, London
This new publication on George Fowokan Kelly is to be enthusiastically welcomed. Fowokan is an artist whose practice has for many decades been characterised by its artistic integrity and its notable commitment to cultural empowerment and the importance of remembering history. Margaret Andrews is to be commended and praised for bringing into existence a publication of incalculable importance, which chronicles and reflects on, with great nuance, the extraordinary life of a universally respected artist of the African Diaspora. We have much to appreciate, and much to learn, from the majestic sweep of the book’s arc, which presents so many important narratives, the central one being the artistic as well as the literal journeys taken by this most loved and respected of sculptors.
A curator, writer of art criticism and a professor of art history
In his sculptures and images, we see the eye and hand of a modern Black artist, looking anew, looking not at, but through the aesthetic prism of an ‘African’ aesthetic. His works recovers – speaks again, in a new place – Europe, the voices and languages which Europe, for so long silenced…it offers to new generations of diaspora Blacks, the opportunity to look again – to look with fresh eyes to see themselves in new ways.
Professor Stuart Hall