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One To Watch: Artist Kesewa Aboah

Artist and model KESEWA ABOAH’s large-scale masterpieces have the art world buzzing. Here, she talks to OLIVE WAKEFIELD about working to the sound of Marvel movies and the words of advice that restored her creativity in lockdown

Aboah uses techniques such as embroidery and body imprinting in her multimedia artworks

There was a moment during lockdown last year when Kesewa Aboah wasn’t sure if she would ever step foot in her studio again. She turned to photographer Tim Walker, who gave her the pep talk she needed to hear. “I was a bit lost and quite down. He looked at me and said, ‘Kesewa, it is meant to be fun. You are doing what you love.’ That really stuck with me, and I have been having fun in my studio ever since.”

For Aboah, fun and creativity went hand in hand from an early age. The youngest daughter of Camilla Lowther, founder of creative arts agency CLM, and Charles Aboah, CEO of a tech company, she comes from a tight-knit family whom she credits as her biggest cheerleaders. “We’re very proud and encouraging of each other,” she says. Aboah recalls the house always fizzing with inspiration; a gaggle of artists and designers around to entertain her and her sister, Gurls Talk founder and model Adwoa. “Me and my sister had a wonderful godfather [set designer Michael Howells]. His brain worked in weird and wonderful ways. My earliest memories were of him helping us make costumes for our school plays. At Christmas we would collect all the wrappers from the Quality Street tin and make angels. I credit him with giving me the seed of my creativity.”

That seed blossomed into a career in art, with Aboah’s large-scale, multimedia works – layer upon layer of delicate embroidery sprawled over print – garnering huge buzz across the art world. Each piece is a display of exquisite craftsmanship, painstaking to pull off, with hours of needlework and pricked fingers involved. “I am very detail-oriented,” Aboah says of the process. “I like to do one thing over and over until it becomes something larger than yourself.”

Last year, at the height of the pandemic, Aboah rallied together fellow artists for an auction to raise money for Covid-relief charities and struggling artists in New York. This summer, in between modeling jobs for Simone Rocha and Miu Miu, she contributed to a group show at the esteemed Timothy Taylor gallery and is currently contributing a piece to the collection at 180 The Strand, as well as joining the group exhibition Black Bold British at Christie’s. We’ll be keeping an eye on this future art icon.

Hi Kesewa, where are we speaking to you today?

“I’m in my bedroom at home in north-east London.”

What are five things we would find in your handbag?

“Sunglasses, iPod, cigarettes, a lighter and a spool of thread to take to the studio.”

What time of day do you feel your most creative?

“Everyone will laugh at this – because I find it very difficult to wake up in the morning – but I think the earlier I get to the studio, the better. It’s just whether or not I actually [manage to]…”

What do you listen to in the studio?

“I can’t listen to music, as it distracts me. I listen to TV. My sister told me to watch all the Marvel movies, so I am making my way through them chronologically.”

What effect did lockdown have on your creativity?

“Some people found it to be the most inspiring time, but I found lockdown so lonely. Your studio is a lonely place to be, so I didn’t want to go there and be alone when I hadn’t seen my friends or family.”

How did you get your drive back?

“I try to listen to myself. I sat myself down one day and said, ‘This cannot go on. You get back in there.’ I started off slow, a couple hours a day, chipping away at it, and it slowly came back. I know what both sides feel like, though: when I’m feeling incredibly inspired, you can’t get me out of the studio, so I know if there is a month or two when it’s not like that, it’s okay, because it will come back. You can’t force it. There has to be time on and time off, otherwise you just drive yourself crazy.”

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

“A young Halle Berry… It’s a movie, it’s all about vanity!”

Where would we find you at 2am and 10am on a Saturday?

“10am, probably asleep; 2am, probably with friends.”

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

“Take your time and it’s meant to be fun.”

Who are the artists you most admire?

“Sahara Long, Esme Hodsoll, Somaya Critchlow, Rhea Dillon.”

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

“Vietnam. It’s number one on my list.”

Is there a song you wish you’d written?

“Anything from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill.

Where will you be this time next month?

“Probably here in London!”

What would you love to achieve in the next 10 years?

“I would like to own a home. I would like to go away on three huge trips – I’m talking big road trips. I’d like to have had a solo show. I would like to have a family. And if I don’t have a family, then to be in love.”

‘Bold Black British’ is now on show at Christie’s, London, until October 21