Jane Odartey Talks Photography , Poetry and Mawusi Label
Jane Akweley Odartey talks to me about pursuing her passions photography, poetry and being a creative designer.
Q. How did photography start for you?
A. In high school, when I got my first point and shoot camera. My main pleasure was to shoot people and things. I did not care much to be in the picture. In college, a friend told me about the photography lab and gave me a tour of it. I knew immediately that I wanted to learn how to shoot manually, develop my own films and print my own pictures.
So I enrolled in basic photography and was fortunate to have this crazy artist (Joel Lederer), as my professor. He somehow made me realize that I cared about photography, and that I do wish to take it seriously.
Q. What does art photography mean to you?
A. Art photography is a process. It is taking what exists and representing it as you “see” it. It often takes some research, because you do not want to waste your time by creating what already is, and because you want to have an idea of what it is you want to do.
It is art, if you manage to make people look again, and despite familiarity with the image, or lack of familiarity, give them a new sense of the image. Make them forget the symbol to see the real. However, it is my belief that good art cannot be successfully defined, only strongly felt.
Q. How many years have you been doing photography?
A. I have been serious about photography since my junior year in University, about six years now.
Q. When did you become interested in poetry?
A. My poetry lessons actually started in Ghana. When I went to Creator, my class 6 teacher , Mr. Prah had us recite every morning, “The Listeners” by Walter De La Mare, and those popular Shakespearean lines in Julius Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear, Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.”
These poems have had a big influence on my life. Not long after I had them memorized, then I was writing my own poems because of De La Mare and Shakespeare, I associated poetry with the melancholic, so I wrote them in my diary mostly as confessions. Later they became my way of trying to explain love, and then just a way to express my mood.
In university , when I switched my major from Business Management to English lit, I was already minoring in photography, so I figured, I might as well take the plunge and seek out my thing with poetry. My professor (Grace Schulman), who is herself a wonderful poet, encouraged me to take my writing seriously. She said I had a way with words. I was thrilled! So I started thinking I ought to write. I soon realized that I really did love writing and sort of need to do it.
Q. Do you have any written pieces out?
A.I have several poems on my photography and poetry blog (http://janeodartey.com).
Q. What issues do you seek to address when you write?
A. Right now I am interested in language, it interests me that we are born with the ability to learn languages, and that the languages we pick-up is more of the world than of the self but I am obsessed with life and death and they remain my key subjects. I think that in learning to fit into the world we forget our selves, and in so doing we take our selves and others for granted.
I am interested in the self when it is aware of its self. I am also interested in focusing on the immediate environment and reducing the familiar into what it actually is, that is the unfamiliar. I am interested in capturing fear and examining it. I think fear and death mocks us, and I believe once we learn to respect and accept them, they cease to mock us, and we can in turn take them lightly.
Q. You are the creative lead at Fashion Label MAWUSI, what exactly do you do?
A.I am everything behind Mawusi , named after my mother who is half Ewe. I design and buy materials for my products, I create the products, photograph and model my work (sometimes I am lucky to have friends model for me), I edit and make them available on my website(http://www.mawusi.us), and when you buy something I write you a lovely thank you note, and send you a postcard if you are outside the USA.
Right now I am working on finishing my fall/winter 2014 collection for Mawusi, which I am very excited about. I am also working on getting my work into some local and international boutiques. It is all very thrilling and scary at the same time.
Q. When did you start designing? Are you self-taught?
A.I have always been into crafting. I enjoy making things for my friends and family. In high school, I used to sketch cloths just for the fun of it. I have never taken any classes in fashion, nor have I ever been interested in going to school for it. In September of 2012, when I began Mawusi, my designing began with it.
Q. What are some of the products by MAWUSI and when did it officially start?
A.I started with accessories like the Happy Koryo yarn bracelets (named after my grandmother) and started making the Happy Koryo multipurpose necklaces. Then in the winter I started with crochet scarves like the Nonitse and Tsapitsapi scarves. Recently, I added clothing like the Koleki cardigan and Wa crop tops.
Q. Which one thing would you say makes the brand MAWUSI unique?
A. My work does not take itself too seriously and most of my designs are statement pieces in their own right: in a sort of minimalist way that renders them timeless.
Q. Photographer, poet and designer, how do you balance all that?
A. I am a willing slave to my passions. You know the saying (supposedly by Confucius): “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life?” Well there are several days when it does feel like work, and there are days when I get depressed because things are not going how I wish them to go, and I am always broke, but most of the time, I am happy and I have an immense sense of purpose and satisfaction.
Even when I am procrastinating, I am working on something else that ought to be done. I am working for myself, and I have crazy expectations of myself, so it is rewarding when I am able to meet these expectations and a learning process when I do not.