Jasmine Abena Colgan is an assemblage sculptor, a photographer, an alchemist and a warrior who digs deeply into the roots of racism, as well as the difficult personal territory of her own biracial heritage and her diagnosis of vitiligo.
The materials she sources to create her work are rich with meaning. Colgan and a chemist developed what she calls the “Ghanatype,” a gold-powder photographic printing method specifically using ore from the Obuasi mine in the Ashanti region of Ghana, a center of the slave trade. In her current show, Human Currency, at Leon Gallery, Colgan focuses on the cowrie shell in an exploration of ingrained bigotry, spiritual feminism and African culture.
Colgan talks about what inspires her and why as she tackles the Colorado creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
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Jasmine Abena Colgan: Before I attended graduate school, my creative muse was skin. Variegated skin tones that were spotted identification for a vitiligan and their voice. It was when I was diagnosed with vitiligo that I understood that we’re all the same. Skin color can be stripped away just as fast as the sun can tan the surface. During this time, I used my words (voice) to express injustices in my vitiligan community and impoverished communities in Ghana. We are all the same and beautiful as such. During graduate school, my muse was the cowrie shell, and I developed a rooted understanding of the twi word sankofa (go back and get your culture; learn from the past.) As I am completing my master's, I think my muse is softness and cotton. There have been many intense and overwhelming hardships. I think the community is calling for kindness.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Erykah Badu, because her beats hit the soul. She is my favorite musician.
My grandpa Joseph Archibald Bonney. I never met him in person, but I attended his funeral in Winneba, Ghana, when I was four.
Yaa Asantewa. She was the greatest female leader in African history. It took 4,000 English colonizers to find her.
What is the story behind Human Currency, and how did the project evolve?
Human Currency began maybe two years ago. I decided that I could express my emotions through my artistic practice, and the gestures became repetitive and therapeutic. Every time I would experience systemic racism and oppression, I would focus my attention on one piece and add materials that are not only being reclaimed, but redefined.
What’s your dream project?
Funny thing about dreams is that dreams become reality if we work hard on the goals we have in our subconscious mind. My dream job ever since I was a little girl was to be an artist. I have always been creative when working with various materials. For my next project, I would like to develop an allotted space to accommodate people who are living in poverty in the city. People need to live somewhere, and I would love to develop a housing unit that is made with 100 percent recycled materials and a solar panel system to provide electricity for the sheltered space. This is, of course, a dream, but I believe that creating a prototype will serve as a great opportunity to help humanity.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Colorful Colorado is my home. I love this beautiful state that is blessed with the Rocky Mountain scenery. I truly enjoy traveling the world and being able to come back to a unique eclectic culture. A wonderful part of being a Coloradan is having the ability to share the experienced culture from traveling into my everyday life. Much of the lifestyles around the world are beneficial for spiritual growth and individual development. I would love to leave America right now, with all of the terrorism that is occurring from the government; but if I leave, I let the oppressors win.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
I think that perfection is something we are all far from realizing. Police should not have guns, and they are destroying humanity in this country. To better our state and the poppin‘ city of Denver, I truly believe that we need to be the first state that limits the rights to bear arms. Once our country is able to create a safe environment, there will be peace. When there is safety among the people, there is no need for guns.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Truthfully, I love the cultural integration of Colorado’s creativity. People that visit this coming-of-age state enjoy the diversity of artwork here. One of my favorite pieces to experience is the bronco near the airport. I understand the traumatic history in creating this piece — Luis Jiménez’s leg was severed by the metal of the horse, and he passed away before the piece was complete, resulting in his son finishing the work. Although his death was a loss to the artist community, the artwork stands as a symbol of how it takes a village to raise a baby.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
I think it is safe to say that 2020 has altered all of our agendas for the upcoming year. In the last couple of years through graduate school, I was traveling back and forth from Ghana, conducting field research. I am interested in spending time with my findings and making everything more concrete. I am also interested in devoting time to my teaching career, and I have been working on a variety of lectures that I believe will benefit the education system.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Jasmine Abena Colgan’s exhibition Human Currency, a collection of works that confronts institutional racism in the representation of the cowrie seashell, will be on view at Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue, through August 29. Leon is currently closed to the general public; limited-entry private viewings available by appointment only (303-832-1599, face masks required), or view the works online.
Learn more about Jasmine Abena Colgan and her work online.