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Photo: Jojo Gronostay

27.07.2021

High Heels at a Large Scale

Jojo Gronostay loves flea markets. For his art project and fashion label “Dead White Men’s Clothes” he travelled to Ghana, his father’s native land, where he visited a huge market in Accra and shopped for clothes, which were then adapted and newly sewn together. The locals call these second-hand goods from Europe “Obroni Wawu”, which more-or-less means “Dead White Men’s Clothes”.

Complex stories about identity, the relationship between Europe and Africa and power structures are of particular interest to Gronostay, who studied in Vienna and now occupies a Bank Austria Studio in the city’s Fifth District.

Photo: Jojo Gronostay

The first container ships full of second-hand clothes from Europe arrived in Ghana in the 1970s. “The people in Ghana couldn’t believe that such high-quality clothing could be given away for free and assumed that the previous owners must have died,” explains Jojo Gronostay, who founded his label DWMC (“Dead White Men’s Clothes”) in 2017. It operates at the interface between art and fashion.

Photo: Jojo Gronostay

Photo: Jojo Gronostay

The story of this donated clothing, which went on a journey, is fascinating. These second-hand goods from Europe destroyed a flourishing textile industry in Ghana. At the same time, there are now around 30,000 sellers. “It creates lots of jobs,” says Gronostay. “There often aren’t any simple answers to complex questions. This is exactly what my art is about.” He adapts the second-hand t-shirts that he finds, sewing three together to create one new one. Trousers are bleached using hair colour. “Bleaching has a lot to do with black identity. There are many people in Africa, who use bleaching cream to lighten their skin,” explains the artist, who is fascinated by identity, globalisation and power structures.

Photo: Yannick Schuette

From Berlin to Accra: Six hours a day on the market

Jojo Gronostay was born in Hamburg in 1987 and moved to Berlin with his mother at the age of twelve. He explains that he feels like a Berliner. And he also sounds like one when you chat with him. For many years, his contacts with his Ghanaian father were no more than vague. His search for his roots was only triggered by his art project DWMC. “I travelled to Accra in 2017,” he recalls, “and spent every day of three weeks on Kantamanto Market, one of the world’s largest collection points for used clothing.” He was there for five to six hours a day. The people got to know him and started to chat.

However, rather than just making one-off items out of second-hand goods, he also takes a lot of photos. He photographed one high heel shoe that he found on the street in Accra in such a way that it looks like a sculpture. He is currently editing a film in Berlin that was made in Ghana. We should be able to see it in Galerie Hubert Winter at the end of the year.

Photo: Jojo Gronostay

Finally a place for sculptures

He came to Vienna to study. He applied to the photography class of the Academy of Fine Arts – and was accepted. At the same time, he worked as a waiter at the Grelle Forelle, also in order to partly finance his DWMC project. “I immediately fell in love with the city,” he says, “and am extremely happy that I now have my own studio.” Gronostay is one of the young artists who have had a Bank Austria Studio placed at their disposal for two years. “Finally I have the space to try out new formats and also to move more in the direction of sculpture.”

And here are three more of Jojo’s favourite, inspirational places:

  1. When I have time I visit the flea market at Gewerbepark Stadlau. It’s huge and is still an insider tip.

  2. I love hanging out in the Augarten, which is a green oasis in the heart of the city. A beautiful park containing a giant bunker: I find this a fascinating contrast.

  3. The Alte Donau is great, I jog there regularly. And I like its combination of the urban and the rural.