As a 16-year-old living in Accra, Prince Gyasi Nyantakyi would take photographs with his smartphone to tell stories about his hometown and people in the community. Now 28, the self-taught artist’s prints have become instantly – and internationally – recognised for their stylised block colours and bold contrasts.
Currently featured in some of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art collections such as the Pinault Foundation in Venice, Italy, Gyasi’s colourful works also appear in the Maât Contemporary Art Gallery in Paris. In 2020, he was listed on Artsy as one of the site’s most in-demand artists and has collaborated on projects with brands like Apple and Balmain. Add his solo exhibition at last year’s Kyotographie international photography festival in Japan and being chosen as the first-ever Black photographer to shoot the 2024 Pirelli Calendar, and his meteoric rise continues.
Gyasi’s creative images not only take the viewer into his hyper-colourful aesthetic, but also into his world of synaesthesia, a condition that creates an interplay of the senses and affects about one to four percent of people. In Gyasi’s case, he associates colour and words, so hope means pink to him, and Wednesday is aquamarine, for example.
On a deeper level, his works explore themes such as childhood, community and the beauty of Blackness while questioning conventional ideals more dominant in the Western world. “Representation and culture are very important to me so for the first time in the Pirelli calendar’s 60-year history, part of the project took place on location in my country,” he said.
The Pirelli Calendar started in 1964 and was always hotly anticipated for its provocative images of nude models, but it has taken a more subtle approach in the last decade. Following in the footsteps of famous Pirelli photographers before him like Annie Leibowitz, Herb Ritts and Mario Testino, Gyasi’s theme of “The Cal” in 2024 is ‘Timelessness’, something he wishes to redefine. “It’s important that Pirelli chose an artist and not just a photographer. Anybody can be a photographer, but not everybody can be an artist,” he commented.
The star-studded cast includes His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, King of West Africa’s Asante Empire, Nigerian singer, songwriter, actress Tiwa Savage, Hollywood A-listers Angela Bassett and Idris Alba and supermodel Naomi Campbell. Also featured are Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race and writer Amanda Gorman, who read her poem The Hill We Climb at US President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. Other protagonists include British writer, director, singer-songwriter and music producer, Jeymes Samuel, Ghanaian contemporary artist Amoako Boafo; American singer, actor, dancer, model and choreographer
Teyana Taylor and former professional footballer Marcel Desailly, who was born in Ghana and grew up in France, playing for AC Milan and Chelsea among other teams.
Prince Gyasi is the co-founder of Boxed Kids, an NGO that helps educate underprivileged children in Accra.
The images of the behind the scenes were photographed by Alessandro Scotti for Pirelli.