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An interview with Serwah Attafuah - Musician/ Visual Artist

July 8, 2019

Tell us about yourself in your own words.

I’m Serwah. I’m from Ghana, the Netherlands and Italy. I was raised in Western Sydney, Darug land. I am in bands and I make art of various kinds and I do a lot of other stuff.


What are your current bands?

Dispossessed, NASHO and Mana, and some other stuff I’m working on.


When did you first start playing music and what made you take an interest in that?

I was 9 years old and I started learning acoustic guitar but I hated it so much. My brother was always a musical kid - he could play about 10 instruments by the time he was 8 years old and my parents were always pushing me to do it and I just didn’t want to because I thought what’s the point of trying to match up to that - it’s next level. So I put guitar down for a while and then in high school I was listening to a lot of punk and grunge and all kinds of stuff like that so I decided to give electric guitar a go, and forget about the acoustic. I just taught myself the way I felt I was comfortable with instead of learning from books and stuff.


Have you always been interested in visual arts as well?

My parents were both artists so I was always at art shows or in studios with them or at their art residencies. I was always around that and always found it really inspiring and cool. Even in school holidays my Mum would just make us draw all day and she would give us a task for the day - just draw whatever you want or make this - make a mask, things like that. I’ve just always been around it and it’s my life now like I can’t really think of a time or place where I wouldn’t be making art.


Did you go to trade school as well?

I went to TAFE. I dropped out of high school after 10th grade and my Mum wouldn’t let me do nothing she said I had to go and do something. I submitted myself for the Vancouver film school and I got in but we didn’t have enough money to send me over there so I just went to TAFE instead. The course was design, and then second year I did diploma of live production and events.


Does that have much of an impact on the way you make art now?

Yes and no. In design school we did the most random stuff - one term we were doing costume then the next one prop then the next was set. The focuses were really broad and all over the place but it was kind of good because you can get your hands in all kinds of different stuff. I guess the one thing I kind of took out of design school was the core design process of - get your inspiration, do some roughs, go into it and just keep building from that.


What sort of tools do you use to make your art?

Well for my paintings I pretty much only use oil paints - I just don’t like any other kind of paints like acrylics and stuff they disgust me. I hate them! For my 3D and digital art I’ll use daz studio, zbrush, blender, marvelous designer, Photoshop, face-gen - and I’ve dabbled in unity.


What does your process look like?

Occasionally I’ll think of something or just a general idea of something and then I’ll sketch it out, but it almost never really ends up like that. It might just be the composition that ends up the same. Or I’ll just jot it down so I don’t completely forget the idea. Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of old renaissance paintings and stuff like that and going off some element of the image. 


The figures in your art are very realistic - do you work off images?

I’ve been doing it for so long so now I just have pre-made figures that I use. I don’t really make men or a male kind of body. I kind of stick to the pre-made thing and alter the face, sculpt it out or go from there. I don’t dabble with the hair and stuff.


How do you find the use of the internet factors into your art and creativity?

I don’t know where I would be without the internet. Tumblr was probably a big push for me to create this kind of art - that’s when I first started seeing digital art kind of rise out from people’s computers. It’s definitely helped me with my art journey - this is the only way I get sales or the opportunity to show people what my artwork looks like.


What sort of themes do you explore through your art and music?

Definitely anti-colonial kind of sentiments. I like the idea of black girl power and stuff like that. I know the stuff I do with all the church kind of imagery is a bit strange but it’s kind of a quintessential influence on all art. They really mastered the composition; they mastered the painting to the fact that it’s almost realistic. I just really like that and all the weird mythological shit that they put in there - it’s got nothing to do with the religion of it. I really don’t know what too much of my influences are, I kind of just make stuff and go ‘Mad! Let’s print it out’.


Who do you feel that you’re trying to reach with that message and why do you feel that’s important?

Other black kids that don’t have a voice or don’t know how to express themselves or feel too scared to do that - that’s who I’m trying to reach out to. Especially with music I feel like if I can inspire another kid to come out and do something or play something or express themselves in some kind of way - that’s all I’m really there for. 


Punk music can be really dominated by white men - how did you get into that scene and how do you find the experience of moving around in that space?

I was asked to be in a band by somebody on the street and I just said yes. I didn’t put that much thought into it. Around that time I’d been to like 2 or 3 shows and there were just all white people, maybe 2 or 3 girls and they were kind of just roped in there by their boyfriends. I didn’t really like the space it felt really weird and for the first maybe 6 or 7 months that I was playing music it was just the same thing. All white guy lineups over and over again and I was feeling really disgusted by it. It’s very hard and occasionally I get a black kid or a girl coming up to me and saying that inspired me so much that I’m going to go and make a band or do this or say this or I’m gonna go tell my racist parents off or something like that and I love that - that’s the reason I woke up today. Sometimes you don’t get that and you just have to try again - go in harder.


Do you ever feel entirely disheartened by it?

Sometimes it’s completely depressing to be at a show and I think people can pick up on it and I try not to put that out too much. There have been times where I’ve just cried. I remember I think it was the last NASHO show in Melbourne and I was the only person of colour in the whole room until my other band mate arrived and I was just sitting outside because I couldn’t deal with it. Then this group of black kids walked past and I was hopeful that they would come into the show but they just kept walking and I just was erratically crying - I couldn’t handle it.


When you started music were you in bands with people of colour?

I just jammed with this girl from high school - she wasn’t a person of colour and this other guy wasn’t either. The first proper band I was in was Dispossessed.


Being in Dispossessed and NASHO - do you feel bolstered by being around other people of colour in your band?

It’s definitely a good support group and we can bounce off each other and stuff like that - it’s good.


What’s the creative process like in your bands?

Well in Dispossessed I wasn’t actually allowed to write any of the music for the first couple of years but we’re at a point where I can play the stuff I have been writing since I was very young and all the new stuff which is really awesome. With Dispossessed Jacob wasn’t actually in the band when we were writing the new album so I just kind of got to present riffs and we would build off that.


You’ve had lineup changes with Dispossessed - since then have you been taking more of a songwriting role?

Yes but it’s still a collaboration with all of us which is awesome. I love that and I hope it continues that way. With NASHO they write the songs and send it to me and I write the lyrics to the tracks. I don’t think it needs to be any more complicated than that - I wouldn’t want to start picking apart how others play their instruments.


What do you as an artist stand for?

I feel like I have no choice - if I keep it all in I’m just going to go crazy. I feel like because I have a very specific thing that I’m saying - I don’t know how to put into words what I’m saying but I just have to say it or have to make it or have to play it and that’s really it. I just have to do it - just do it!


What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

I get writer’s block or artist’s block almost all the time. Money - if I had a lot more money, I would be in a better place with my art. If I could have a studio it would be over for everybody! If my amps would stop breaking. Money is definitely a challenge. Racism has stopped me from being creative quite a bit - especially with music the racist venues and promoters and other bands that we play with definitely takes a toll on your mind and what you do. Being a girl makes it pretty difficult to navigate these spaces as well. People unfortunately don’t take me as seriously which is bullshit. I think also my age - a lot of people don’t take me seriously because I’m a lot younger.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk and people of colour who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

Just do it. At the end of the day you’re always going to have some kind of adversity in this society that we live in now so what is the point of just sitting there and doing nothing? You’re going to always sit like that and then what would we have? We would just have a world of white supremacists dominating us and you can’t let that happen. Nothing is going to change like that, you gotta fucking get up and do it. 


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