Rights Brother | Koby Martin




Ghanaian born Artist Koby Martin talks to Basic Rights about evolving as an artist within this ever-changing technological landscape and highlighting social injustices through art.


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Listen via the Basic Rights Spotify.


How do you feel the role of the artist is changing in our increasingly technologically connected, yet emotionally disconnected world?

I don’t think the role of the artist will change, but I think it will evolve. Evolve in the sense that it needs to adapt to the times, and with how things are moving. Artists in the 18th and 19th century always adapted with the times. I was born in Ghana, where I made mainly digital art, but then coming here I had a direction I wanted to go, which was to eventually have my work shown in museums, so there was a route I had to take. Which is the traditional route, but being adaptable, and changing is always going to be a part of ones life. Being a professional artist is something that is always going to be in a state of evolution, and that is not going to change.

You've worked a lot with musicians in the past, working on album covers for artists including Krept & Konan and Tinie Tempah. How important is collaborating to you ? Will you edit your work according to the artists wishes? Or will you present a finished product to them based on a brief?

Collaboration is key, and that’s something that I definitely live by. Collaboration opens doors to a different market, a different audience. It is the window to letting people know who you are as a person, and who you are as an artist, and as a creative. In terms of working with other creatives, musicians and other artists, I can always, I don't want to say compromise, but adjust and adapt to a required brief, but I always remain authentic to myself, which I think is important.


 In your work you are known for blending traditional painting techniques with more modern artistic styles, and in your recent pieces for the Tate you highlight social injustices from the past. Do you feel it is important to marry the past with the future? Do you feel you have an obligation to inform / improve the future as an artist? 

You only know what you are heading towards, when you know what you are coming from. Having a marriage between your past experiences and your present experiences always gives you ideas, because then you are giving yourself a chance to grow, and experiment, combining these two. Experiences are layered, when you peel each experience back, layer by layer, you start to realise, this is where I went wrong and this is where I can go right. That analogy is what I carry through to my work. My recent opportunity with the Tate was a great experience in talking about social injustice. That painting is about women in the 18th century that were banned from performing on stage, so the men dressed as women to be able to perform as women on stage. The painting is called “Support live dreams”.

 

Do you believe in creating a legacy ? What is the purpose of good art?

I believe legacy is created through impact, and I want to be remembered as someone who impacted people through my work. Not by how good it was, or how it looked, but with the message of giving back. Giving back in the sense that people found themselves through my work, or found God, or a sense of family. Or even just found peace. It doesn't have to be materialist, or anything financial, but just knowing that someone might say. “Ok if I go to this gallery or that museum and I see Koby’s work I will feel fulfilled, or have an understanding of myself through seeing his work.” That for me is legacy. That and giving back, and being impactful. I think good art is subjective, and you know, whether an art piece is good or bad is up to the audience. Because the audience completes the art when the artist is done with the work. 

In a world where constant content is required and with so many social platforms to keep satisfied, how does an artist keep up with the volume of requirements ? Do you feel the artist can still march to the beat of their own drum, or do you feel the need to meet certain expectations?

The artist is a reflection of what goes on around him. His job it to reflect what society gives him. With me as an artist, I started marching to the beat of my own job by telling what I know, and what I live. Which is the historical context of my family, migrating from Ghana then living in the United Kingdom. So I think it always starts with the artist, and what he knows, before it seeps into the community or the nation or history as a whole. Because if you don’t know yourself, how can you talk about other things. In that, you don't want to just blab your way through, so it is important to know yourself, because by knowing yourself you can then understand what beat to march to, and what sticks to create the music for your life, before going onto a bigger audience, and talking about that through your work. The thing about art is that people can read through the lines. People can tell whether a piece of art was rushed, or whether it took years for you to do it. You as an artist are just a vessel, a medium, for what you are trying to say. Art always starts with you.


We have all had a year of introspection, forced into isolation in a way that goes against the nature of being human. Has that affected you, and your art in any way? I realised after lockdown that I missed spontaneity especially in social situations, what did you miss the most?


I missed social interaction. It also made me realise how fragile life was. I mean I knew that already but watching people die,and loosing loved ones, just hit closer to home. I already lost my dad, not to Covid 19, but it reminded me that our time here is borrowed. Our life is rent, literally, and sooner or later we are all gonna go. So it made me realise the importance of working on your purpose, and giving back during your time on earth. Being a servant, because serving each other is how we progress, and we move forward as a community, and as a nation. No one is bigger than the other, no one is more important than the other. It is important to be humble, and remember that serving each other is the highest act of humanity. 


We have all had a year of introspection, forced into isolation in a way that goes against the nature of being human. Has that affected you, and your art in any way? I realised after lockdown that I missed spontaneity especially in social situations, what did you miss the most?


I missed social interaction. It also made me realise how fragile life was. I mean I knew that already but watching people die,and loosing loved ones, just hit closer to home. I already lost my dad, not to Covid 19, but it reminded me that our time here is borrowed. Our life is rent, literally, and sooner or later we are all gonna go. So it made me realise the importance of working on your purpose, and giving back during your time on earth. Being a servant, because serving each other is how we progress, and we move forward as a community, and as a nation. No one is bigger than the other, no one is more important than the other. It is important to be humble, and remember that serving each other is the highest act of humanity. 


As a brand we try to empower creatives by providing a uniform that meets the needs of creators. What are your sartorial needs as a painter?

Man… Basic Rights!!!