Inspired By Superman, Ghanaian Artist Emmanuel Taku Has Seen His Career Go Up, Up And Away

Forbes

By Nathaniel Easington for Forbes

 

As a boy growing up in Ghana, Taku was always fascinated by the fact that when the Man of Steel was at his most powerful, his pupils disappeared. Whether he was furiously firing red heat vision or in a literal blind rage, Krypton’s most famous son was drawn so that only the whites of his eyes remained. For young Taku, Superman’s vacant eyes represented the very essence of power and strength—but there was something else missing besides Superman’s baby blues.

 

Taku noticed that he never saw Black people portrayed in a powerful light when he was younger. All of the potent characters he saw on TV or in movies were white. “That is how I wanted to portray the Black man,” Taku says. So he set out to create some heroes of his own. Now an acclaimed 35-year-old artist represented by a gallery in Brussels, Taku sells his god and demigod paintings for upwards of $25,000—a superhuman leap from his humble beginnings.

 

Raised in Darkuman, a suburb of Ghana’s capital, Accra, where he lives today, Taku always believed that he was destined for a career in the arts—despite the consensus among his family and friends that becoming a doctor or a lawyer was the best way to earn a living.  

 

After high school, Taku attended the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, where he focused on visual arts and textiles. College is also where he met future Ghanaian artists such as Kwesi Botchway, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, and Amoako Boafo. “When I got [to Ghanatta], I saw a lot of students who were also determined to become great artists,” he recalls. “I was pushed to do more.”

 

Based on that early fascination of Superman, Taku’s creative signature became pupilless, heroic Black figures who encompass much of his six-by-ten-foot canvases. In most of his works, the subjects are shown close together, often intertwined, symbolic of Ghanaian values of unity and community. 

“There is an adage in my language that says, ‘If one person stands, he is defeated easily. But if they are two or more, they are able to defeat whatever is attacking them,’” Taku explains. “That is why most of the time you don’t see any gaps or space between [my subjects].” 

 

Another signature element in Taku’s works is the rich, vibrant fabrics his figures wear, similar to a paisley pattern. This, too, dates back to his childhood and a sister who was a seamstress. “She actually loved to use paisley in designs,” Taku says. “And when I started painting, I found out that I was unconsciously doing these floral prints on my images.”

 

Following graduation, he sold his paintings locally and on Instagram for years while working as an art teacher, fetching prices anywhere between $500 and $1,000. Then his first major break came last year when he was named the inaugural artist at the Noldor Artist Residency in Accra. Founded by African art specialist Joseph Awuah-Darko in 2020, the Noldor program offered Taku a five-week fellowship that included professional and creative guidance from established artists. It culminated with an exhibition in Accra for gallerists in Europe and the United States. 

 

During his residency, Taku was introduced to the owners of the Belgian art gallery Maruani Mercier, Laurent Mercier and Serge Maruani. In April, the Brussels gallery staged a show of Taku’s works and every painting sold for tens of thousands—all before the show officially opened. 

 

“I think we had about 300 people lined up on a waiting list and so we could choose the collectors who were getting work,” Mercier says of Taku’s debut exhibition. 

Taku’s career goals moving forward are simple—he wants to sell a painting for $1 million and continue helping his fellow artists, friends, and family on goals of their own. 

 

“I started with a picture of getting to the top, even though I was struggling,” he says. “I believe that when you project your thoughts to where you want to be, you will surely be there.” 

 

While financial success and fame is obviously important for the once-struggling artist, Taku wants to pay forward what he has learned, to inspire and help a new generation of Ghanaian artists, many of whom call on the rising art star for advice on their own journeys. One of his former students, for instance, was selected to represent Ghana in an art competition in Japan. 

 

“I wish [buyers] for my [artist] friends who are struggling because I think they need them,” Taku says, noting that the income from his paintings affords him new freedom. “Now, I am okay, so I wish I could support them.” 

 

That innate desire to help others is a sentiment that Superman would surely understand.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
2.7.2021