“Water Carriers” is part of a series of paintings called “Carries” by Korley. This version is simply a composition of five women walking into the distance with the pots they carry the water in on their heads. Two women are placed in the foreground and they make you very aware of the movement in the painting. The other three are ahead of them walking on further into the painting. This gives the viewer a sense of depth as well as the space beyond which penetrates right through the painting. This feeling of space is all around the whole entire scene and, when I first saw this painting, I thought it captures the mood of Ghana. The freedom, the heat, the air, the space, the happiness, and the constant communication Ghanaians adhere to. People appreciate people and even at times people do not understand the idea of having some time on your own; this could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the situation. In this case we have five women who decided instead of going to fetch water on their own they could go together and ofcourse they are chatting.
The colours of the painting stand out. Korley uses at least four shades of the green and if at looked a closely one could possibly observe more. He uses it to create the light air surrounding the painting and there we do find the lightest shade of green; especially at the bottom half of the painting. Korley is a painter who has a good and strong paint technique which allows this painting to be interesting while others could fail abysmally capturing this scene. In the bottom half, which opens the viewer up to the painting, it is like the clear open air is felt behind the women. To this Korley adds strokes of white to add even more space to this section and it opens up the painting like, a theatre curtains being raised from the sides to open the first scene of a performance. As it lifts one curiosity is engaged. When one concentrates on the outside of the painting and gets to the top half, the green is slighter darker than at the bottom half and the even colour creates a sense of clam at the top of the painting. The top half is a representation of the sky and clouds which one often finds calming. The colour green itself is seen as calming and is that why it is the colour most dominant in nature?
To create a sense of depth towards the women’s journey he uses a darker shade of green around them and makes it even darker as you go deeper into the centre point of the painting .The woman in the middle is surrounded by the darkest green which could look black in a certain light. In doing so Korley, invites your eyes to travel around the painting and also allows the viewer to notice the lady in the middle; therefore you do not miss a thing.
Green is also the colour of the women’s dresses. The first lady on the left of painting is wearing sleeveless dress with spaghetti straps, it is a hot environment and her dress falls below her knee as do all the dresses of the other women. She is also carrying a baby on her back and carries this baby with an extra piece of cloth. This cloth the Akan people of Ghana call an ‘akataso’ meaning ‘overall’ and with kaba and slit (traditional dress of some Ghanaian women), the ‘akataso’ is also sown as part of the attire it can used as another cloth tired on around ones chest or waist if wished, it is used to cover oneself when cold, tied as a head scarf, or also used to carry a child like this woman is doing. There is a technique of binding the cloth around oneself which keeps the child securely in place and it is of a great convenience to the mother. The colour ‘white’ Korley uses to highlight the folds in the fabrics and edges as the flow in the wind. Korley also defines the edges of their clothing with white as well as dark green and black. Their dresses are loose and comfortable allowing the freedom of movement; adding to the lightness of the painting. The woman like the others is also wearing a head scarf on her head and a small piece of white cloth has been rolled and twisted then placed on the woman head to help her carry the weight of the pot. One hand holds the pot up while the other freely flows with her movement and conversation. Some of the other women are the same. It shows the extent of comfort of carrying things on ones head. In Ghana it is done everywhere and some even carry things without holding onto it; they have become experts at balancing things on their heads since childhood. In this pot is the water they are perhaps carrying to their homes. It is preferred to do this chore early in the morning or at a committed time one wishes to use. The pots are decorated with two designs the kriss cross design and the upside down ‘V’ design. Both designs are amongst the most ancient to be found on the African Continent and it is still used until today because they are truly classic. The pots are a light brown colour. A darker brown is the colour of the women’s skin. Their skin is dark, looks toned, thanks to Korley’s highlights on their skin with the lighter brown and white, and also it glistens as it should because of a daily dose of natural butters.
Also on the women we see jewellery. They are all wearing hoop earrings and gold bangles on their hands. The second leading lady on the left is the only one who is also wearing a peach coloured necklace; one made of beads perhaps and her bangles are of copper and gold. Again Korley adds detail to the scene. Their choice of jewellery is an assurance that they are Northern Ghanaian Muslim women. Their round, faces with it’s slightly delicate features and their elegant tall statue is typical of some Muslim women in the north. Their head being covered with a head wrap is also another confirmation. Although covering your head does not necessarily make you Muslim in Ghana, it is part of the culture and all women do it and also some men. Especially as you get close to the Sahara because a head wrap can shelter you from the sand and the sun as well as help keep you warm in the cold nights. Korley adds variation to their dress’s some sleeveless others with sleeves, some with a round neck etcetera, to keep the eye fascinated. But it also shows the creative nature of Ghanaians as every woman usually has her own design idea when having her clothes sewn.
In this scene we do not see the feet of the women but as a viewer you accept that it actually looks right! Korley has placed the women in a ‘V’ type composition which emphasizes their walk and they look like models on a catwalk and their structure definitely suites. Their structure is what all the western designers draw when creating their collections.
At the back of the third lady, is another baby who is the most prominent figure in the painting. The baby is wearing bangles too, making it a she; a she of the next generation. She observes her mother and learns.
The painting is set in a rural environment. And although it could be said that this is a typical ‘African Scene’, this scene is no longer too common in Ghana. Africa including Ghana has moved on and modern urban environments do at times look the same as those in the 1st World. And some villages now look like the suburbs. So the ‘typical African Scene’ in 2007 is no longer the typical African scene expected by habitants outside Africa.
Hilton Korley is a self taught artist. He learnt from his father who is also an artist ‘Martey’. As I mentioned in the beginning this is one of a small series of paintings called ‘carriers’. He likes to paint them in a variety of colours and in different postures, with different things on their heads. This specific painting is now in a private collection in Europe. Now in his thirties he has a skill which could rival that of the best artists around the world. He likes to paint scenes of women and of the old Accra colonial building settings. Night scenes are also a favourite. He lives in Accra, the capital of Ghana and his works can also be found at the Centre for National Culture in Accra.