Painting our Reality: My speech from Dennis Doe Tamakloe’s “Turtle Dreams” Exhibition

What is art?

A way of capturing reality, or a way of creating a totally new one.

A way of recording our history, or a way of dreaming and designing our future.

A way of capturing the beauty of life, or a way of documenting life’s pain.

Art can happen by mistake, or it can be intentionally formed.

Art can be different things to different people, but it is never nothing to someone.

Art is a matter of perception. It’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. One man’s masterpiece can end up on the bottom of another man’s birdcage.

Art can be found anywhere and everywhere, but it is up to the individual to find it, acknowledge it, and appreciate it. Though a work of art stands alone, it is what it is, and its appearance never changes, it is the onlooker who gives art its power and value.

Much is the same with life.

Our lives are full of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, victory and defeat, but we are the ones who give those things the power and value. We can choose to find good in any situation, but it is up to us to seek it out, acknowledge it, and truly appreciate it.

If we look at the history of our world, we see that often, great victories of one civilization were the terrible destruction of another. For a large part, this is the story of the continent of Africa. The West has caused so much pain and devastation in the African continent, and all for its own gain: colonization, the exploitation of valuable minerals, and slavery are sores in the hearts and minds of many Africans, and Westerners alike.

But within all of that pain and torment, some people chose not to accept things for the way they were. They chose to see a different reality! Great leaders who Dennis  beautifully captured in his paintings. People like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and others not only had a different perspective on what was happening around them, but they themselves began to paint wonderful new realities, crafting a new piece of art within the ugliness of the world around them. They hoped, they dreamed, and they fought, in order to turn horrible situations into something beautiful.

It is important to remember them for the art they created! And though it can be difficult, it is equally important to look back at our past, with the purpose of learning from it. To make shorts visits to the pain that dwells in our past, but not to make an extended stay. We must be dedicated to move on. We must realize that whatever happened in our past, no matter how horrible or painful, though we are formed by it we are not our past, and do not have to be defined by it.

And in this present life, we can use the lessons learned from our forefathers, both African and Western, and learning from their artistic eyes we can create a beautiful present. Dennis told me that when he first moved to Berlin and he saw the tag graffiti he absolutely hated it. He felt that the tags were ugly, and vandalism, and totally ruining good architecture. His dislike for these tags grew and grew. He complained about them both in his mind and to others. But then, at one point, his perspective began to change. One day he looked at one of the tags and saw something else within it.

Dennis no longer saw and perceived the tag as ugly because he looked deeper and gained a new perspective. He allowed the outline of the spray paint lines to guide his eyes to a newer, more beautiful way of viewing the tag. And there, within those lines sprayed by a German youth, Dennis found his own heritage, his own culture, his own reality, and Dennis found beauty. The tag had not changed, but Dennis’ perspective on it had. He no longer looked at the perceived ugliness of the surface, but he looked beyond it and found beauty. And now we are all able to enjoy this new way of seeing, as Dennis joins the most ancient form of African graffiti, with a modern German version. How wonderful, and revolutionary, and beautiful!

At first Dennis let the messiness of the graffiti change him and his attitude, but once he changed his perspective, and chose to see beauty within the mess, true art was formed. And now Dennis sees every tag he comes across in a new and beautiful way, and he even expressed to me that he now wishes there were many, many more of these tags.

From Dennis and his art we learn that life is a matter of perspective. Beauty is always around us but sometimes it is hidden, and sometimes it lies deep within our pain or frustration. That reality may not change until our perspective of it does. We have to choose to see the beauty, but we must first look for it, and then we have to learn to appreciate it.

Our pasts might have been painful, and much of our present was molded by that very pain, but with this new artistic perspective we can shape, and shift, and rework our presents, with brush strokes of the mind we can paint a more beautiful reality for ourselves and others. Rather than complaining about things we do not like we can rather follow Dennis’ example and gain a newer, more beautiful perspective, and like Ghandi urged we can BE the change we want to see around us. And in doing so we can allow art to give meaning to the messiness of life. We will be creating a beautiful work of art, a wonderful masterpiece, and ultimately that work is called our future.

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