Monday, December 21, 2009

Madison artist Djam Vivie carries on the traditional African wood carving craft of his native Ghana

Djam Vivie, Madison Musician, Woodcarver and Drum Maker
If you missed this article in Isthmus during the holiday rush you can read Joe Tarr's story online here: "From the Ashes."

Djam Vivie, Madison Musician, Woodcarver and Drum MakerIt's the story of a remarkable Madison artist, who, among his other accomplishments, is using the power of his art to help heal a wound of Madison's past.
With his sculptures and carvings, Djam Vivie likes to imagine he's giving something a new life.

A native of Ghana, Vivie started carving wood when he was 14, learning the craft from both of his grandfathers. In his east-side home, he carves drums, masks and furniture, all in the style of his native country.

"When I see a tree that is dead," Vivie says, "I try to give him a second chance and turn him into a work of art."

With his latest project, a series of four African-themed chairs, Vivie is trying to give a second life to a piece of art that was destroyed by arsonists 23 years ago on Madison's south side.
Vivie is also trying to help pass on the tradition of carving that he learned as a boy in Ghana, watching his grandfathers practice the craft.
He worries that the craft from his homeland is being lost. On recent trips back to Ghana, he laments that most of the carvers are doing inferior work. "Mostly the craftsmen in Ghana are producing mass quantities because of tourism."

With some other carvers, he hopes to begin teaching a class next year. "This is a traditional craft," he says. "It'll get lost if people don't learn it."

Vivie was leading some classes on drumming at the South Madison Library when he saw a picture of The Tree of Life. Vivie recognized the carving style as southern African. He offered to make, not a replica of the piece, but a tribute of sorts, for the library.

"All art is a piece of work, so I appreciate all art," he says. "I don't see why art should be offensive."
I photographed Vivie for the Isthmus article and really enjoyed meeting him, seeing him at work, and photographing some of his creations. I've posted some additional photos from the shoot in this Flickr set.

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