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Listen, Listen: Adadam Agofomma: Honoring the Legacy of Koo Nimo
Mary Hark, Atta Kwami
Minneapolis: Take Time Press, 2011
Listen, Listen: Adadam Agofomma: Honoring the Legacy of Koo Nimo is a story about paper, and printing, and most importantly, music. Listen, Listen is a collection of works on handmade papers enclosed in a clamshell box.
There are two thin, letterpress-printed pamphlets, one describing the musical legacy of Koo Nimo and the other enclosing the DVD that contains his music and a series of digital photographs documenting the recording session.
A larger, accordion fold pamphlet is printed with the lyrics from one of Koo Nimo’s songs, “Obra ne nea wabo” (Life is what you make it), in both Twi and English.
Twi scholars Samuel Kofi Darkwa and Forster Kena Asare translated the lyrics. This song, like most of Koo Nimo’s music, uses traditional Asante proverbs to tell a story containing a moral lesson. Finally, at the bottom of the box is a suite of three etchings entitled Sound Fabric, by Atta Kwami. [Three Kwami Etchings Fanned] The box and booklets were designed by Mary Hark and constructed at the HARK! Handmade Paper Studio, in Madison, Wisconsin. The letterpress printing was executed by Hark and Jana Pullman at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, in Minneapolis. Layout and typesetting were provided by Christine DeMars.
Palm Wine Music
Palm wine music or highlife music is influenced by both Portuguese guitar and the calypso music of Trinidad, combining acoustic guitar, percussion, and vocals. Imagine that you are standing in a private courtyard in Kumasi, Ghana, tapping your foot to a relaxed drum rhythm while voices rise in harmony over a fluid guitar melody. At the center of the performers is Koo Nimo, a Ghanaian music legend. Although he has been inspired by a variety of musical styles, including classical and jazz, Koo Nimo and his music group, Adadam Agofomma (Roots Ensemble), are celebrated for preserving Ghana’s palm wine—or highlife—music tradition.
To preserve this palm wine music, Koo Nimo invited a group of musicians and artists into his home in Kumasi for two weeks in July 2009 to make music. British recording producer Ben Mandelson taped the sessions direct to stereo and captured along with the music the background noises of the city—rain, roosters, and taxi horns. For those who were there, it was clearly a remarkable experience. Ghanaian painter and printmaker Atta Kwami noticed “energy amongst the musicians” and described the atmosphere as “relaxed and reverential.” Mary Hark, the American papermaker and textile artist who raised funds to produce the DVD, recalled the sense of elation present in the moments after a song when the audience and musicians would all burst into applause.
The Sound Fabric Etchings
The Sound Fabric etchings are derived from Kwami’s earlier series of acrylic ink and watercolor drawings of the same title made on Xeroxed copies of musical scores from his father’s music books. Black and Red, Kintampo, and Zongo, the three etchings that comprise the Sound Fabric portfolio, resemble Kwami’s painted abstractions, which combine flat swaths of color in vivid, textile-like designs. For Kwami, the music of Koo Nimo “conjures images of colours, shapes, and patterns.” Pamela Clarkson ground the black ink for the etchings by hand. The limited color scheme of black, yellow, and red is unusual for Kwami’s work but makes the fine parallel and intersecting lines forming the flat, geometric surfaces much more evident. Kwami writes, “To me, the lines, texture, structure and grids with fluid-pattern embody the style of Koo Nimo’s music. It was a play on musical form as well as notation.”
Papermaking in Kumasi
In 2006, as a Fulbright fellow, Mary Hark taught at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, where she developed a papermaking workshop that exclusively uses local materials. The papermaking class Hark co-taught at KNUST began experimenting with local plant material, cleaning, breaking down, and cooking fibers by hand to make beautiful papers with different textures and colors. She and her students made papers from cashew, maize, plantain, avocado, papyrus, and several other fibers. At first, they strengthened their papers with kozo, a fiber traditionally used to make Asian papers. Then, after consulting the Ghanaian Forestry Department, they realized that a plant producing similar fibers was growing in Ghana. The paper mulberry, imported to Ghana in the late 1960s, has become a serious invasive species, and the government Forest Research Institute was only too happy to allow KNUST’s Department of Fine Art to use some of the plants for papermaking. The hand-made paper in Listen, Listen contains mulberry fiber, made mostly from plant material harvested near Koo Nimo's home in Kumasi.
Hark founded Take Time Press, a limited-edition, fine art press that nurtures collaboration among international artists and celebrates the cultural richness of the Ashanti Region of Ghana. The aim is to explore the creative possibilities enabled by hand-papermaking and printing in the Asante homeland. Listen, Listen is the first publication issued by Take Time Press.
About the Artists
Mary Hark (born 1956) is a professor in design studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An independent curator of textile and paper art exhibitions, she is also the proprietor of the HARK! Handmade Paper Studio, which specializes in small editions of high-quality flax and linen papers.
Atta Kwami (born 1956) is a Ghanaian painter, printmaker, art historian, and independent curator. He trained and has taught in Kumasi, Ghana, and in the United Kingdom. His art responds to the visual environment of Kumasi, the artistic center of Ghana, where bright, hand-painted signs mark shop fronts, and patterned kente cloth is sold in street stalls. His work is also influenced by music, especially traditional Ghanaian music and jazz.
“An Artist’s Sense of Place: The World of Atta Kwami at Nicolas Krupp Gallery in Basel.” ArtDaily.org http://artdaily.com/news/48895/An-Artist-s-Sense-of-Place--The-World-of-Atta-Kwami-at-Nicolas-Krupp-Gallery-in-Basel.
Brown, Jennifer Spears. “Atta Kwami.” I: The Poetics of Cloth—African Textiles, edited by Lynn Gumpert, page 64. New York: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 2008.
Clowes, Jody. “Mary Hark’s paper of substance.” Surface Design (Halsey, OR) 35 (4) (2011): pages 8-13.
Court, Elsbeth J. “Atta Kwami,” Griot (Kumasi, Ghana) 8 (2000): pages 151-158.
Hark, Mary. Listen, Listen: Adadam Agofomma, A Limited-edition, Fine-press Book by Mary Hark. Publisher’s advertising pamphlet. Madison, WI: Take Time Press, 2011.
Hark, Mary. “Report from the Field,” Surface Design (Halsey, OR) 35 (4) (2011): pages 14-19.
Kaye, A. L. “Up-up-up and more up.” Rakumi Arts International. http://www.eastafricanmusic.com/koonimo.htm. Originally published in Columbia University’s WKCR Radio program guide, July 1988.
Picton, John. “The Picasso Bar, Kumasi.” In Kumasi Junction, pages 8-12. Llandudno: Oriel Mostyn Gallery, 2002.
 Atta Kwami, e-mail to Chloe Barnett, July 28, 2011.
 Mary Hark, interview by Chloe Barnett, July 29, 2011.
 Atta Kwami, e-mail to the Chloe Barnett, July 28, 2011.