Serwah Attafuah is a graphic designer, 3D artist and musician from West Sydney, Australia. Her 3D work will be immediately evocative to anyone who grew up during the dawn of digital design in the early 2000s, but Serwah’s artistic vision is entirely her own. In almost all art set in the future, white and to a certain extent, East Asian people are often positioned at the forefront, with any people of recent African descent nowhere to be found. Whether deliberately or not, the genre supposes an idyllic future for the world, but one without any visible BIPOC. The implications of this are inaccurate at best, and offensive at worst. But, through her images, Serwah implants this aesthetic genre with black, mostly femme characters, and in doing so, creates optimistic avatars for a culture not oft considered in conversations about futurism and technology.
Her art envisions a world of chrome speedways and shining mega-cities, all inhabited by figures who are inarguably black. Or, in her own words, ‘dreamlike cyber wastelands… with afro-futuristic reflections of self with strong ancestral themes.’ POCC asked her a series of questions to get into the mind of the young creative.
Some of your art has religious undertones. Was religion a part of your life at all growing up? If it was, in what way?
I try to tell stories of my own culture, experiences and heritage. My father is Ghanaian, my Mum is Italian and Dutch. We weren’t really brought up in any sort of religion but my parents exposed me to a lot of different spiritual teachings from a young age. There’s a massive fixation on Christian denominations and funerals in Ghana which I think is fascinating. As much as I’d like to romanticise ancient African spirituality, unfortunately that’s really not the reality for most of us. At least in my community, most of those teachings are kept under lock and key. I went to Ghana a couple years ago, the only place I could find any information about our spirituality was in the back room of this library, all the books were rotting with mould and dust, it made me feel so sad.
I remember going to the Vatican city when I was 10, seeing the incorruptible saints and the contrast of gold, bling and angels that surround them. It really instilled the fear of God into me, but it also made me feel really inspired. Listening to a lot of black and death metal growing up was a big part of it too. A lot of the imagery associated with those genres really showcase the ornate brutality of Catholicism. Even the word ‘Wrath’ (my handle) has such strong biblical connotations.
Almost all your pieces feature BIPOC women. Was this a deliberate choice? Is there any sort of self-portraiture going into the images?
I always steered towards portraiture throughout my art practice. Especially with the self-portraits, I guess I know my face and body so well it was an easy subject to learn from and replicate when I was painting.
Growing up there was never a whole lot of black female representation in sci-fi, cyberpunk or even art in general. It’s always been super important to me to showcase the fact that we should be included too.
If you had to create a list of sources (movies, books, music, other artists etc.) for a person to read up on to better contextualise your art, what are some that would be on the list?
The first page of the bible; I feel like a little God when I’m creating my 3D worlds. A lot of Blackened death metal, Spring-Breakers, the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack, tshirtslayer.com , The Matrix, Edvard Munch’s drawings. I’m really into Ivan Seal and The Caretaker right now. There’s a seriously insane list of 3D and digital artists that inspire me but that’s like a book in itself.
Will any of the events of 2020 (the most recent iteration of the Black Lives
Matter movement, or even COVID 19) have an effect on the subject matter of your art going forwards?
Probably not consciously. I feel like there’s always been this massive expectation for me to make more visually anti-colonial or political artwork because it was the forefront of all the music I made.
It’s not that I don’t want to bring politics into my visual art. As a young black woman, it’s more that it’s my escape from living in a society that disrespects us so much. I think that’s
a political statement in itself, I deserve rest and sanctuary too.
You’re also a musician as well as a digital artist. Are there any similarities in the creative processes for each discipline? What are the major differences?
It’s really difficult for me to focus on both music and visual arts at the same time. When I have some music to record, I pretty much can’t listen to any music, only really want to see the people I’m collaborating with and don’t eat much. When I’m writing guitars, I try to tell a story. Instead of writing verse-chorus-verse, I would write a part that feels like the conflict of the story or the cathartic ending. For lyrics it usually takes me months of performing live and recording to actually get the feel of where the words should be. I’m definitely much more guarded about my music too. It takes a lot in me to actually share the music I make.
With artwork, I’m much more free-flowing, and I can create under most circumstances. I prefer to be alone with Drum and Bass playing and a mood board of stuff to look at. Finishing a piece in one run rather than letting it sit there on my computer works best for me, I try to capture the notion as soon as possible.
Who would be your dream person to work for or with on a project?
Probably Mowalola, she is potentially the staunchest West-African artist/designer out there right now.
But I honestly don’t really like to think that thought pattern anymore. A whole lot of insane opportunities have already come my way this year (I’m so grateful!) that I’ve unfortunately had to turn down, or something didn’t go to plan. I think once you are truly ready and you feel confident in yourself and practice, really amazing things end up falling into your lap… or into your inbox.
Some of your pieces have a heavily cyber-punk and futuristic look to them. Are you interested in futurism? Does the future of our society look bright to you?
100%. Since a young age, cyberpunk and futurism have always been a massive part of my identity, even before I know it was a thing. About the time I started getting my first digital art commissions, I was working at an e-waste facility where I would dismantle tech from the past or present. It was so fun, in my head I would imagine myself as some techno-nomad walking around the warehouse with my drill trying to find parts to build a cyborg. Whenever I imagine myself in a cyberpunk future I feel at peace. I think the future is as bright as we all want it to be. We should learn from the past to create a future we can all thrive in.