Yellow is the Colour of Water is a series of portraits by Ghanaian artist Jeremiah Quarshie, exploring both gender roles and water shortage with stunning impact. The hyperreal acrylic paintings draw aesthetically from studio photography and Old Masters, depicting Ghanaian women of a variety of looks and personalities posing amid a pile of yellow containers. According to the artist, these are a familiar site in his home country as a symbol for the passage of water.
“When I was younger, the water problem in Accra was not as terrible as it is today,” says Jeremiah, “yet it was important to store water since not many households would have a connection in their homes. For those of us who had a connection, it flowed very late at night or at dawn. So we all had to find receptacles for storage.”
The increased prevalence of fast food restaurants around Ghana meant vegetable oil containers, nicknamed “kuffour gallons”, became readily available and affordable, so people without access to regular running water would use them for water storage. “In no time it became the strong cultural symbol of the search for water – the more gallons you’d see in a particular vicinity, the more acute the problem was.”
Jeremiah chose to focus on women for his paintings to highlight the entrenched tradition for women being the water-carriers. “It was a conscious decision to use only women. In Ghanaian culture, women are tasked with the all-important chore of finding and bringing water to the home.”
These women, though, defy the clichés, eclectic in persona and role in society. From a housewife to Miss World Africa, a boxer and a soldier, among others, the subjects of Jeremiah’s works are depicted as strong, confident and individual, uncannily realistic in the artist’s vivid palette.
Yellow is the Colour of Water will be shown by Gallery 1957 at the inaugural contemporary art fair Art x Lagos from 4–6 November.