It's all about balance, says Felix Adumatta Donkor from Berlin. He is an artist and gallery owner, and cleans for a living.

Felix Adumatta Donkor

At Felix Adumatta Donkor's house: books, plants, photographs Photo by: Dagmar Morath

Giving up doesn't just mean failing, it means learning that you have to find your own balance. It's that simple, says Felix Adumatta Donkor.

Outside: In a kindergarten on the street where she lives in Berlin, a handmade sun hangs from the window. The summer air blows through the leaves of the trees. The dull sound of an airplane can be heard in the distance.

Inside: He has books and lots of plants in his apartment. There are also paintings on almost every wall. Some of them are from friends who, like him, also paint and come from different African countries. The tubes of paint are ready for the next photos. A pile of his own works on a wall.

The throne: “I worked a lot with African masks and sculptures and tried to find out what the people who made them thought and what their meaning is for society,” says Felix Adumatta Donkor. He placed one of his paintings, created from these questions, next to his desk. It shows a throne. It has only one leg. “The basic idea is that you have to sit in balance so that the throne doesn’t fall over.” It could mean the balance between opposites in society or in life.

Art: In general, his aim with his photographs is to “show African art in a different light”. Instead of the dark background against which masks and sculptures are usually depicted, in the images he transfers them to a new environment, for example the throne in the desert. “In my photographs I did not focus on any particular African country, but rather looked at the northeast-west-south. However, during his research he also noticed that what he found in libraries was mainly literature from that country.” white people about black art. The question then arises: Who has the authority to interpret?

View from the window of an apartment to the houses opposite.

Roofs, windows, sky – privacy and space: view from the apartment Photo by: Dagmar Morath

Points of view: This happened to him when he was studying African art history. Except for him, almost all the students were white. “Even if they are anthropologists, they have only seen the culture from the outside. The question is: How can you grasp this emotionally, without falling into cultural prejudices?” “I would even include myself,” says Adumatta Donkor. “Because I was socialized here.”

Child in Ghana: Adumatta Donkor was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1989. “The years there were the best times of my life,” she says. “As children, we climbed mango trees and built cars out of Coca-Cola cans. It went like this: we opened the cans and bent them ‘so they were shaped like a car.’ They cut circles out of flip-flops and made them into wheels. She liked people to be close to each other. “Every woman around you was not just a stranger, but a mother too.”

Child in Germany: He came to Germany with his mother when he was five years old. They wanted to build a better future for themselves here. “It’s a difficult story, I was here illegally,” he says. Even if he was registered with the police, he could go to school. “It was a really difficult journey to get here.” And in fourth grade, suddenly the authorities said: “You have to go to Ghana and get a visa so you can return to Germany legally.” He knows from others that most of them would not be able to return.

This text comes from the Laborable day. Our left-wing weekly! Every week, wochentaz is about the world as it is and as it could be. A left-wing weekly with a voice, attitude and a special vision of the world. New every Saturday on newsstands and of course by subscription.

Providence: Adumatta Donkor broke his wrist shortly before leaving for Ghana. “He had to have an operation.” The flight was two days after the operation. Six weeks later he returned to Germany with his visa. “I think the fracture was the only reason I was allowed to return – for medical reasons.” If the wires in his wrist had not been removed since the operation, he says, his hand would have become a “handicap.” Doctors in Ghana did not dare to approach him. The break, he says, was a “coincidence.”

Education: Back in Germany, he played a lot of football – his passion. “I wanted to be a professional footballer.” Adumatta Donkor was in the youth ranks of Hertha BSC. “Then, when I was 18 or 19, I realised that I wanted to concentrate on school.” He later began studying architecture in Cottbus, but had financial difficulties. “I didn’t know how expensive it would be.” He didn’t have enough money for the models he had to build, so he dropped out after three semesters.

Money: “I worked in the Adidas store for a long time,” she says. And then she decided to study again, in Berlin, this time “African Art History.” In the meantime, she found her apartment, where she has lived for eleven years. In 2014, she founded a cleaning company to finance it.

But studying and founding became too much. “I couldn’t find a balance and I realized I wanted to drop out.” He suspected that as a black art historian and with his approach, it might be difficult to get a job in a museum or gallery. But art always fascinated him. “I think art chose me rather than me choosing art.”

Gallery: In addition to working for a cleaning company, Adumatta Donkor also founded her own gallery in Charlottenburg, called aaimba. The gallery exhibited black artists. In other galleries, they would have a hard time, also because in Germany there are few people who collect their art. She underestimated some things. “The gallery put me in a difficult financial situation.” That is why she left the gallery in February. “First I have to gather new resources again” – at the cleaning company, which is doing well. Today, she says, she would do many things differently.

A painting on the wall of an apartment.

One of the works of African art. Photo by: Dagmar Morath

Bold: “It was a big risk,” he says of the gallery. The economics are “super important,” but “you don’t just want to make things that sell, you also want to establish a culture.” He says he was “naive” when he opened the gallery, but that’s a good thing. Because if he had known in advance what was coming, he wouldn’t have taken the plunge. “You make mistakes that turn into something positive,” he says.

This also applies to painting: “It often happens that you spill paint and then you realise: it really looks great. And suddenly it could become your characteristic.” The experience of failure would have punished him: he would have wanted too many things at once. That is why he is currently taking a break from art and concentrating entirely on the cleaning business. But the other thing just won’t let him go.

Life: He wants to exhibit art again, to have a gallery again. But he is also concerned about other things. “What remains of life is above all emotional: joy and suffering, that is part of it and it is life itself. He is religious, Protestant.” He says that for him religion is about trust. “It takes away my fear and shows me that everything is fine.”

Future: He sees his future in Ghana “or another African country”. Adumatta Donkor is tired of the cold Berlin winter. He would rather have several galleries in different countries. And he wants to find a wife and start a family. This is even more important to him than art. Despite everything, he is very happy, he says, and collapses on the sofa. “I am one of the lucky few who says: I failed.”