TWENTY-FIVE YEAR OLDS are obsessed with their iPhones the world over. In this respect, Prince Gyasi is no different from his peers. It’s the nature of his obsession that sets him apart. He uses his phone to text and post on social media, but his main priority is taking pictures. Gyasi is an internationally recognized photographer and his camera of choice is his iPhone.

Gyasi’s images radiate with color. They are fantastical creations, dramatic portraits in which ordinary people appear to have stepped into his colorized studio for a moment of transcendent artistry. Speaking in April 2019 at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, he succinctly explained his practice.

“I usually tell stories through my iPhone lens and with the use of color,” Gyasi said, at the forum hosted by the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford in the UK.

“I don’t use an iPhone just because I want to be unique. I use an iPhone because I believe as an artist you can use whatever tool or whatever equipment you have to tell your stories. I also use color because I want people to be mentally and emotionally healed by just looking at my images and my art pieces.”

“I don’t use an iPhone just because I want to be unique. I use an iPhone because I believe as an artist you can use whatever tool or whatever equipment you have to tell your stories.” — Prince Gyasi

Gyasi lives and works in Accra, Ghana. A graduate of Accra Academy Senior High School, he began taking photos in 2011 and purchased his first iPhone in 2014. In 2018, he joined Nil Gallery in Paris.

The gallery is currently showcasing Gyasi’s work at the New York edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the fair is online only this year. Artsy is presenting the event May 4-31, 2020.

MOST OF GYASI’S IMAGES are captured in Accra. He focuses on the essence of his subjects—womanhood, manhood, and childhood. Although many of the individuals are marginalized, Gyasi presents bold counter-narratives.

He says he uses his portraits to create awareness about the challenges facing people in his hometown, especially children. The situation is particularly dire in Jamestown, a fishing community in Accra, where the children can’t afford to attend school, may not have the benefit of a father figure, and often don’t know where their next meal is coming from. (If they don’t catch any fish, they don’t eat.)

 


PRINCE GYASI, “Triumph (9th edition),” 2019 (photograph, Fuji brillant archive paper). | © Prince Gyasi, Courtesy Nil Gallery

 

To help address these issues, Gyasi co-founded BoxedKids, a nonprofit campaign focused on providing an education for those most in need. The name of the organization refers to being trapped or boxed in a place or situation. He believes education fosters leadership and is the key to alleviating poverty.

Ultimately, Gyasi uses his iPhone to capture uplifting images. Employing conceptual storytelling, he focuses on hope and emotion. His double portraits convey trust and unity. His images of women emphasize their strength and sacrifice.

While his artfully posed portraits tell stories, they also function as studies in abstraction. Juxtaposing the ebony-hued skin of his subjects with sun-drenched landscapes and hot-colored clothing and accessories, the digitally enhanced images read as color-field compositions.

Despite the gravity of his themes, Gyasi said maintaining the beauty in his art sends an important message:

“The reason why I play with colors a lot is because most visual artists tell African stories in a negative way. Even though we’re going through difficulties, I think for the new generation, especially me, I have to tell these stories in a more beautiful way so these kids, when they see them, they know they can be great people in the future because this signifies hope.” CT

 

The New York 2020 edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is open May 4-31 on Artsy. Presented by Nil Gallery, Prince Gyasi’s photographs range in price, based on size, from 3,000-4,000 euros to 7,000-9,000 euros (about US $3,200-$4,300 to US $7,600-$9,700)

 

TOP IMAGE: PRINCE GYASI, “Purpose Drive,” 2019 (photograph, Fuji brillant archive paper). | © Prince Gyasi, Nil Gallery

 

FIND MORE about Prince Gyasi on his website

FIND MORE about Boxed Kids here and here

 

WATCH MORE Inspired by “A Great Day in Harlem” (1958), the Gordon Parks photograph of jazz musicians, 60 years later, Prince Gyasi gathered highlife music artists in December 2018 for a photo he called “A Great Day in Accra.” The project was a collaboration with Apple

 


April 2019: Prince Gyasi talks about his practice at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford in the UK. | Video by Skoll Foundation

 


PRINCE GYASI, “Responsibility II,” 2019 (photograph, Fuji brillant archive paper). | © Prince Gyasi, Courtesy Nil Gallery

 


PRINCE GYASI, “Crumple Zone,” 2018 (photograph, Fuji brillant archive paper). © Prince Gyasi, Courtesy Nil Gallrey

 

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