Owusu began his artistic career as a more traditional painter, producing portraits of political figures, popular culture, and royalty. Having spent this time honing his technical skills, Owusu set out to create more symbolic representations of the political and socio-economic narratives he has always been interested in. His more recent oeuvre speaks to shifting meaning of value across economic, ecological, and socio-historical registers. Owusu is most known for working with pesewa coins, which were introduced in Ghana in 2007 to address rampant inflation. The ongoing nature of the economic crisis signals the failure of this measure, and today these copper coins bear little value. Central to Owusu’s process is having to negotiate with Ghana’s Central Bank to procure enough pesewas and not heeding their stipulations that the coins be left intact. By performing various chemical treatments on them (e.g., using salt from Ghana’s south coast or vinegar from the central and eastern regions to signify local industries), he reveals the various ways in which currencies age and transform with use. The use of pesawas specifically calls into question Ghana’s economic and political independence.


Newer works have incorporated a greater range of materials to interrogate global political and economic orders. Working with the US penny, Owusu explores its symbolic weight, its relationship to Abraham Lincoln (the figurehead on the coin) and thus the Transatlantic Slave Trade, of which Ghana was an epicentre. The use of metals like steel reference the seeming indestructibility of US capitalism, especially the industrial growth of its exemplar, New York. Yet, 9/11 as well as the “boom and bust” cycles of capitalism demonstrate how quickly these structures can disintegrate, a duality he mines in his art. Metals such as gold, copper, and bronze feature in his work to evoke the history of currencies that predate the modern monetary order, tracing the evolution of financial structures that dominate contemporary life. Meanwhile, the incorporation of natural materials such as wood signifies the transition from a natural world to a manufactured one, as part of the precarious evolution of global economies. His sculptures investigate questions as varied as how labour, and its exploitation, is central to the creation of economic value, how mapmaking solidified colonial power relations worldwide, and how flags symbolise the myth of nation states as bastions of security and prosperity for all.


Visual artist Yaw Owusu was born in 1992 in Ghana and currently lives in New York, USA, two locations that feature centrally in his work. These are primarily sculptural installations that incorporate found objects, transforming everyday materials that bear little commodity value and yet symbolise the might of global production and finance into art objects of surpassing beauty.


Yaw Owusu gained his BFA in Painting from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana and his MFA from Pratt Institute, USA. His solo exhibitions have spanned galleries in Ghana, the UK, and USA, while galleries such as Christie’s (UK), Sotheby’s Institute (USA), MACAAL (Morocco) have included his art in group exhibitions. He was awarded the Kuenyehia Art Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian Art in 2018 and the Pratt Institute’s Outstanding Student and Circle Awards in 2020, and has held residencies at Efie Gallery (UAE) and Cope NYC (USA).

Art Fairs
In Between Escapes, 2019