A few ladies have been seen trying to carve their niche in the art industry. The art industry is mostly dominated by men around the world. However, one lady in Ghana, Akosua, wants to change this paradigm. She even went further by choosing a type of art that is not common to many— pyrography. Her works bring to life the culture of many African communities. Read about how it all started as she tells the B&FT’s Inspiring Startups.
Edith Akosua Berchie grew up in Twifo Praso, Central Region of Ghana. Her parents worked in an oil palm plantation. She is a product of the Arch Bishop Porter Girls Senior High School in Takoradi, Western Region of Ghana where she studied visual arts. She furthered it at the Cape Coast Technical University where she had an HND in Hospitality Management in 2015.
Growing up, Akosua was fond of arts. She would draw whatever she came across that appealed to her– even her friends and teachers. In fact, in junior high school, she was the only female who could compete with the boys in technical skills and drawing. Akosua was arts.
When she completed tertiary, she had a job with a hotel but that wasn’t her kind of profession. She never felt satisfied doing what she didn’t love. She wanted to pursue what she has always known—arts—and thus began her exploration in the industry.
The scotched (pyrography) art work
After careful and extensive research on what kind of arts she should focus on, Akosua settled on what is known as scotched arts or pyrography— an art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface with a heated metallic point. What it simply means is that, the final art is not just a drawing like we see in hyperrealism. It is an engraving of an object on a piece of wood or leather. So, all the materials used in this type of art are real and tangible. Some of the materials she uses include: beads, fabric, hairs, woods, threads, among others.
Akosua said she chose this particular art because of the fact it is not very common and has a unique identity and feeling that can better tell the African story.
Since, she didn’t have any startup capital, she had to combine it with her hotel work. It was quite a challenge as she was on the evening schedules of the hotel and always got home late. But that didn’t stop her. After closes from work, she stayed up late to work on her art till about 4 a.m.
This process continued until she launched her art gallery in 2016 and called it Phillan Gallery. During her first exhibition which was used to launch her brand, Akosua showcased bout 50 artworks. Her works continuous to attract the attention of many, especially those seeing it for the first time, as they have a unique African touch.
Akosua has a bigger vision for Phillan Gallery. She wants to grow her startup into an educational centre where she would train young men and women who are interested in arts but are not getting the needed support to pursue it. She also wants to add a social enterprise bit to it where she would train rural folks in arts.
As usual, the age-old devil of many startups—capital—is her foremost challenge. Materials for producing artworks are quite expensive and without adequate capital, it is becoming difficult for her to operate. Besides the cost of the materials, she must bear the cost of high electricity bills as her work involves an extensive use of power. She has to finance all these from her meagre savings.
Another challenge she contends with on a daily basis, she says, is the general attitude towards arts. It seems Ghanaians have still not come to appreciate the value of arts. Certain comments passed by both strangers and people she knows have been very discouraging.
“I remember, one day during an exhibition, someone walked into my stand and asked whether I don’t consider my profession as a waste of time since I am a woman and in future, my family responsibilities may not give me the time to continue this work. He told me to find something better to do with my life rather than waste my time on this. I really felt discouraged that day. There are a number of times I have felt like leaving this profession but there are others who encourage me to continue.”
It is this same attitude that has made patronage of art works low in the country as many do not attach value to it.
Mode of marketing
Akosua’s main means of marketing her product is through social media which has offered all startups cheap and easy way of showcasing their products to the world. She has accounts on both Facebook and Instagram where clients can see all her art works.
Again, she doesn’t miss the opportunity to attend arts exhibitions and other programmes that will bring her into contact with people.
The role of education
For Akosua, she keeps learning every day from online sources and this, she says, has helped her to remain up-to-date with current trends in her industry.
Her views on the economic empowerment of women
“Gone are the days that women were supposed to stay in the kitchen and their husbands would take every financial responsibility at home. I believe that women should share responsibilities at home and this will require that they work and gain some income. This will impact both the community and family as a whole.”
Akosua feels the Ghana Tourism Authority can do more to help the industry. She says the authority can organise exhibitions for the industry and advertise it widely to make it more of a festival. Again, she says, the authority can also assist artists to attend exhibitions organised outside the country in order to sell their products in other markets.
Advice to young artists
“Never give up. People come and see you and discourage you with all manner of comments. So don’t give up because the discouragements will surely come, even from your family. But when you stay focused and keep doing it, a door will open for you one day.”
Contact: 024 925 2167
Social media: Facebook and Instagram (Phillan Gallery)
Story by Obed Attah Yeboah -Business and financial Times, Ghana