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George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly

Sam and GeorgeIcon of the Black British arts movement

My reggae band “FOWOKAN” is proud to be associated and endorsed by my brother George who delves into the traditions and history of pre-colonial Africa and ancient Egypt and draws his artistic inspiration from African art and culture.  From a musical standpoint, FOWOKAN, as a band, draw a similar parallel taking the natural talents of their individual members to create music which exposes their musical backgrounds and explores the deep rooted traditions of reggae and African music. For more on the artistic works of George Kelly, please visit www.fowokan.com

Excerpt from an article posted on Itzcaribbean.com
Jamaican born sculptor ‘Fowokan George Kelly’ – an icon of the Black British arts movement. Now in his 70th year, and showing no sign of curbing his passion for the arts or his dedication to encouraging the next generation of Black artists. Fowokan, a true ‘Elder’ of the UK black art scene.
George Kelly was born in Kingston Jamaica on 1 April 1943 and exhibits under the name Fowokan (a Yoruba word meaning, one who creates with the hand). He is mainly self-taught and has been a practising sculptor working in the figurative tradition since the late 1970s.
Coming to the visual arts late in life Fowokan deliberately chose not to be trained in western art institutions as he felt they could not teach him what he wanted to know. “They were too deeply entrenched in their own traditions with little or no understanding or interest in the things that interested me most, which are the ideas that lie behind the art and culture of Africa”, says Fowokan.
The philosophical aspect of his work came through a deep intuition and travels through various parts of Africa, exploring the spiritual side of his ancestral/ spiritual home; this was his art school and university. The intuitive/spiritual aspect of reality he believes still abounds in Africa. He sees African art not art in the western sense but creations associated with religion, magic and ritual.
The encounter between the African and the European has brought about deep rooted spiritual and mental conflicts at the core of the African, along with the belief that the African is nothing more than “the reflection of a primitive and barbarous mentality.” He believes that this point of view cannot be left unchallenged, and that art has an important role to play in the struggle to define and redefine a contemporary African world-view.
In today’s African artists’ work we must see the eyes and hands of the contemporary artist, looking anew, not at, but through the prism of an African aesthetic, speaking in a new world with the voices of the ancestors; voices for so long silenced; in doing so, their art will offer new generations the opportunity to look again with fresh eyes, to see themselves in new ways.
Fowokan has received commissions to produce works for the South Bank Spring Festival, Marcus Garvey Centenary celebrations and the African People’s Historical Monument Foundation.
Fowokan has exhibited at the Studio Museum Harlem, the British Museum and the Royal Academy, London. His sculptures are in collections such as the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute  Harvard University, the University of the West Indies, Unilever and Marcus Garvey Park, as well as in private collections in various parts of the world.
A selection of works by George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly:
Presentation2

I read this article by my brother on his website and wanted to add it here.  It gives an insight into my life as a young boy, moving from Jamaica to be with our parents who had made a new start for us here in the UK.

The Windrush Generation

4a217bc9c866d6891b6df29ef7fce56d[1]The twenty second of June 1948 found me in the innocence of my sixth year, completely unaware of a momentous event taking place some five thousand miles away across the Atlantic, which would affect the lives of many for generations to come.  The event was the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex, with its cargo of four hundred and ninety two mainly Jamaicans on board.  It was to mark the beginning of what was later to be known as the Windrush Generation.  In the simplicity of my life then it did not occur to me that I would be making the journey to that strange and distant land nine years later, leaving behind forever, the beauty of an unfolding adolescence, never to return to the possibilities or dreams I dreamt in those warm, wonderful days of the summer of 1948.

Sitting on white-washed stones circles beneath the duppycherry tree in the school yard at the back of the East Queen Street Baptist Church; I did not imagine that in a few years, I would be one of those helping to lay the seeds of Black culture in the soil of England’s green and pleasant land.  How many of the new arrivals in the late forties, fifties and sixties were aware that the ancient deities that had made the journey across the Atlantic from Africa to the Caribbean, had made the return journey with us and were putting down new arcane roots in the heart of Britain?

Unlike other immigrants to this country before, there were no reception committees to meet us at the quay side; there was no induction into the ways of this strange and exotic country which was to be our new home.  They had exchanged our Blue Mountain homes for ex-army tents and dark, dank, air raid shelters beneath Clapham Common, in south London.  From there they moved to Somerleyton and Geneva Road in the heart of Brixton from where we were sent to cities around the country by officials at the local labour exchange in Coldharbour Lane.  1948 was a pivotal year in the history of Twentieth Century British lawmaking.  It was the year in which the new immigration act came into force; the act allowed unrestricted entry to members of the empire, for the first time. This coupled with the nationalisation of the railways and the setting up of the welfare state meant there were thousands of willing hands to fill vacancies in factories, a desperately under staffed transport system and a nascent National Health Service.

Four hundred and ninety two eager and willing hands, dressed in thin cotton clothes, carrying their hopes and dreams in cardboard suitcases answered the call from the mother country, to come and help kick-start her economy at the end of World War II.  We later came by the thousands without any predetermined plan to conquer and possess, we had no political or philosophical intention to capture, hold and develop; we had simply migrated to find work like thousands before who had travelled as cheap labour to Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama and the United States; the difference now was that this time we had travelled to our “motherland”, the metropolitan heart of the Great British Empire.

Life in our new homeland was not easy; the streets were not paved with gold as we were brought up to believe.  Sleeping three to a bed in a room with six and seven others was often the norm; twice monthly baths in the nearest public bathhouse.  Xenophobic hostility was the nature of our daily encounters: “They are here to take our jobs and women, they breed like rabbits, they have dirty personal habits, niggers go home, keep Britain white,” were often the cry.

As we stand at the threshold of a new millennium, what the SS Empire Windrush symbolises is far greater than the journey of four hundred and ninety two men and women to these shores.  For me it marks the end of the sharp divide between the colonisers and the colonised, for in Britain today, it is often impossible to say with any certainty who colonised who.  Today those four hundred and ninety two settlers, are referred to as the founding fathers of the “Windrush Generation”.  They fought and sacrificed to lay down the foundation of the Black Community in this country. We must record their deeds for those generations who are to follow, for they should not have to live without knowledge of their history.  They are born into a society in whose history they are near invisible, when they are seen, it is as enslaved and colonised victims.  Nothing they learn about Britain makes them feel as if they belong.  History points a people towards their destiny; it teaches that those with no sense of history are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.  As a people, we must begin to document and preserve our own deeds.

And so while others search for the key that will reveal the answer to all things, we Africans must salute and pay homage to the lives of those ancestors who left the warmth of their homelands to become pioneers and settlers, in this strange and hostile land. We who are the product of their efforts must remember that often those who plant the seed, are never at the harvesting. We must remember that in their death lies our purification and renewal, for death is the sacred food of rebirth. We must not forget that it is their deeds and bones that nourish the soil of this land, and make it ours.

Fowokan, February 1998