First published: Fall 2018
Jean Seisser, an author and contemporary of the French artist Hervé Di Rosa, recalls their encounters with a very special artist in Ghana
The French artist Hervé Di Rosa has been travelling the world since 1992. Going from one workshop to another, he learns how images and objects are produced in different cultures, with the ultimate aim of blending different methods into his own productions. He has worked with icon restorers in Sofia, Bulgaria, and embroiderers in Porto Novo, Benin. He has met tanned-hide painters in Addis Ababa, fresco masters in Patrimonio, Corsica, and learned how to use lacquer with a Vietnamese master in Binh Duong.
For his third “Étape Autour du Monde” (Step Around the World) in 1993, Di Rosa was in Kumasi, Ghana, looking for a workshop foreman. I found better than that: Almighty God. Back then, Ghanaian hairdressers’ signs were monopolising the time of local art producers from Dakar to Kinshasa; they were not, however, Almighty God Art Works’ speciality. This studio focused on custom calligraphy for cars – number plates and legal wording – and traffic signs. It was also commissioned to make advertising posters 3 x 4 metres in size. I recognised Almighty’s signature on several giant signs that depicted terrifying car crashes, each reproduced in a newspaper to promote road safety. He had painted them then gifted them to Ghana’s Ministry of Transportation to be placed outside big cities to encourage drivers to be cautious. He was renowned in Kumasi, a city of two million in the Ashanti region, and in certain circles his reputation had reached Europe and America.
Thanks for not Creating me a Cow, 2016, glycerophtalic paint on canvas, 46 x 35.4 in. / 117 x 90 cm, Musée Du Quai Branly, photo: Pierre Schwartz
Now he mostly goes by the name of his workshop, “Almighty God”, but his given name is Kwame Akoto. He was born on November 25, 1950, in Kumasi. He went to elementary school in Bremang and then studied the “art business” with two billboard masters in Kumasi, Kwasi Addaï and Kobia Amafi. A portrait of Addaï, taken shortly before his death, hangs on the workshop fence.
At the end of his apprenticeship in 1972, Akoto opened his own studio and called it “Anthony Art Works”, a tribute to Anthony of Padua, the eleventh-century Franciscan friar and patron saint of lost things. He began going by the name of Anthony Akoto. Soon after, he converted to Christianity with his partner, and future wife, Faustina and, “freed from Satan’s influence”, he was “born again” on December 13, 1991. He renamed the studio Almighty God Art Works. In his autobiography, Almighty God wrote: “What I love most is to be a witness of Jesus Christ, create art, sing, and get physical exercise”. As well as an artist, Almighty God is a fervent preacher and famous healer, and a member of the House of Faith Ministries, a Pentecostal sect.
Almighty God Art Works studio is a large wooden structure that has been lined with painted panels demonstrating the painter’s skills. Almighty God sits in the centre, facing his easel. Stern-faced and upright, he reigns over his assistants, students and trainees like a tyrannical conductor over his orchestra. He focusses on the work in front of him but governs at the same time, keeping an eye on everybody, and dictating errands, chores and the movements of any visitors.