The Physical Conformation of the Contemporary Plump Ghanaian Woman in Digital Painting

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The basis for this project is the artistic expression of the physical conformation of the contemporary Ghanaian woman. The spotlight however is on the physically plump type of Ghanaian beauty. The reason for this is that I believe that there is a need to revive some traditional Ghanaian concepts of the “beautiful” female figure vis-à-vis contemporary thoughts on the ideal feminine figure. Traditionally in Ghana, fatness or plumpness of the human figure (in both male and female) has been associated with affluence, good living, happiness and even beauty. It is common knowledge that the full-figured Ghanaian woman with ringed- neck, firm breasts, heavy hips, prominent posterior and rounded calf muscles have always been admired on the streets not only by men but by women themselves. I should not be misinterpreted as an “Uncle Tom” who wishes to perpetuate derogatory stereotypes of “Aunt Jemima”. The models depicted in my paintings are not “Aunt Jemimas”, neither are they borrowed images from the internet of clichéd black female erotica. I am an African who believes that the plump Ghanaian female figure still has an aesthetic role to play in Ghanaian culture; and that glimpses of beauty are objectified in many of such body types. The models depicted in my finished paintings are fellow Ghanaians and I cannot degrade them through art. I have always wondered why plump women are always relegated to the background when beauty is under scrutiny in various beauty pageants. There might be clashes in ideology about physical beauty, but I deem it important to, at least, try to bring to the fore the beauty of healthy, plump female figure so that it is at par with the slim figure that the media has sought to promote. The figure of the plump Ghanaian woman is too powerful an image for me to ignore personally as a figurative painter. This should not be confused with voyeurism. Obviously, a choice or preference of a particular body type may imply rejection of the other types. Nevertheless when that preference has been consistent and institutionalized over many years (as in the case of slim, lanky models always winning beauty pageants) then that preference assumes importance. It needs to be scrutinized and critiqued for us to know whether that preference is sympathetic to Ghanaian public consumption. I selected and depicted female models through digital art at their own free will. Some of the models appear in the nude because they chose to be. They share with my thoughts that nakedness is part of our existence and it is nothing to be ashamed of. This Thesis/Project does not purport to convince people to side with me on the issues of a particular physical conformation as beautiful or even to accept beauty as a concept. However, I seek to provoke our thoughts and sensibilities on the depiction and exhibition of a very powerful image – The Ghanaian woman. The plump figures reminiscent of Peter Paul Rubens and the sometimes blunt depiction of nakedness, mass of flesh and sexuality call to memory some of the paintings of Lucian Freud. However the peculiarity of my line of inquiry is the persistent and consistent depiction of certain physical attributes of the plump Ghanaian woman (such as big buttocks, voluptuous breasts, heavy hips etc.) through digital manipulations and printing. The content of the paintings are not divorced from the Ghanaian culture. Traditionally such physical attributes had meaning and sexual connotations. But in recent years modern thoughts on the body image have rejected the plump female physique and highlighted the ‘supermodel’ type of feminine figure as ideal. Although this project is focused on one particular body type and is limited in scope, it may generate unlimited intellectual discourse on issues concerning the human body; issues such as beauty, morality of nakedness/nudity, gender bias and sexuality are but a few. This Thesis topic “The physical conformation of the contemporary plump Ghanaian woman in digital painting” assumes importance in an age of the supermodel, body image, plastic surgery, body cloning, availability of various images through social networking and image censorship powered by the mass media and unnecessary Western influences.
A thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of MASTER OF FINE ART Faculty of Art, College of Art and Social Sciences Department of Painting and Sculpture,2010