GHANA FREEDOM - GHANA’S FIRST NATIONAL PAVILION AT VENICE BIENNALE
Artists: Felicia Abban, John Akomfrah, El Anatsui, Lynette Boakye-yiadom, Ibrahim Mahama, Selasi Awusi Sosu
Commissioner: Ministry Of Tourism, Arts And Culture
Curator: Nana Oforiatta Ayim
Architect: Sir David Adjaye Obe
Strategic Advisor: Okwui Enwezor
Ghana presented its first National Pavilion at the 58th Venice International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, from 11 May – 24 November 2019. The first Ghana Pavilion at the 2019 Biennale Arte took place under the patronage of Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. Entitled “Ghana Freedom,” after the song composed by E.T. Mensah on the eve of the independence of the new nation in 1957, the pavilion was curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and examined the legacies and trajectories of that freedom by six artists, across three generations. Rooted both in Ghanaian culture and its diasporas, the pavilion exhibition included large-scale installations by El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama; representation and portraiture by prominent photographer Felicia Abban and painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; and a three-channel film projection by John Akomfrah and a video sculpture by Selasi Awusi Sosu. Situated in the Artiglierie of the historic Arsenale, the Ghanaian pavilion was designed by Sir David Adjaye.
In addition, the Ghana Pavilion exhibition included a publication with a preface by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; foreword by Honorable Catherine Afeku, and contributions by Sir David Adjaye, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Okwui Enwezor, Taiye Selasi, Hakeem Adam, Adjoa Armah, Mae-ling Lokko, Kuukuwa Manful, Larry Ossei-Mensah, and Mavis Tetteh-Ocloo.
You can purchase the catalogue here:
Wealth of the North
Exhibition with artists Caleb Prah, Ayambire Nsoh, Caleb Aryee
International Conference Centre, Accra, November 2017
An art exhibition in honour of the 5th anniversary of the passing of Aliu Mahama. The North of Ghana has often been stigmatised as poorer, less educated and developed than the South and yet it is truly rich in culture, traditions, and potential. The exhibition seeks to both highlight the North’s wealth and the areas in which it, and the support of it from the South, have fallen short.
The exhibition comprises paintings by Ayambire Nsoh, who is modernising the Sirigu wall-paintings made by women in Bolgatanga; and images of the Kayayei girls, who migrate from the Northern regions to Accra for better economic opportunities but end up for eleven or so hours per day, in the sweltering heat, moving goods throughout Accra’s bustling markets for wholesalers, traders, and shoppers in exchange for a few cedis. Both photographs have given the girls the dignity they deserve and dream of, Caleb Aryee by dressing and photographing them as they wish to be seen and Caleb Prah by elevating them to Madonnas.
Aliu Mahama stood for dignity, discipline and integrity and a photography exhibition shows the evidence of this through his life from young man, through to religious man, to statesman, family man and friend.
The funds from the fundraising auction of the works will go towards the Aliu Mahama Foundation, in support of its educational work.
Exhibition on the United Gold Coast Convention
National Theatre, August 2017
On 4th August 1947, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was founded at Canaan Lodge in Saltpond, proclaiming its mission towards self-government in the shortest possible time, putting in motion the active drive towards Independence.
The core foundation members and dignitaries at the event included Alfred George Grant, Paa Grant, Gold Coast Merchant, Joseph Boakye Danquah, Francis Awoonor Williams, Edward Akufo Addo, J Quist Therson, E. Ako Adjei, Emmanuel Odarquaye Obetsebi-Lamptey, William Ofori Atta, Ex-Sergeant J. E. Wesley, Mrs. J. B. Eyeson, Mr Modesto Apaloo, Mr and Mrs. Magnus Sampson, Rev F. E. Ekuban and Rev Gaddiel-Acquaah, Nana Hammah II, Omanhene of Enyan Denkyira, and others rulers from Akyem Abuakwa, Kotoku, and Ashanti.
Modern statehood in Ghana was formed over a series of events and acts, dating back to the nineteenth Century, through acts of constitution-making, like those by the Fante Confederation, and later the formation of political pressure groups, such as the Aborigines Right Protection Society (ARPS), the National Council for the British West Africa (NCBWA), the Ratepayers Association, and the Ga Manbii Party, through to the forming of the UGCC, the boycott and riot of 1948, leading to the Watson Commission, the formation of the CPP, the Coussey Committee, and finally, the apotheosis of all these events, Independence, in 1957.
The exhibition highlights several of the groups and individuals that formed who we are today, centering on the historic day, 4th August 1947, and the individuals it brought together, such as Paa Grant, J.B. Danquah, E.O. Obetsebi-Lamptey, William Ofori-Atta, V.B. Annan, E. Ako Adjei of the UGCC; as well as the individuals that led the way, such as J.E. Casely-Hayford, John Mensah Sarbah, E.J.P. Brown, and J.W.Sey of the ARPS, and the groups that came after, such as the Watson Commission, including Kwame Nkrumah, and of course, The Big Six.
Pictures were gathered from the Deo Gratias Studio, Information Services Department and National Archive.
The exhibition and the exploration into the roots of our modern nationhood will continue and expand, from 9th August onwards, at the ANO Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Accra: Portraits of a City
ANO, Osu, Accra, March 2017
On 6th March, ANO will open a new multi-purpose contemporary art space in Osu, Accra, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. Located in the centre of Ghana’s capital city, and bringing together an exhibition, screening and performance space, ANO will serve as a hub for the city’s growing art scene. Founded in 2002 as a cultural research platform, the launch of this space marks a new era in the organisation’s history. The institution will be able to stage more substantial exhibitions; host international artists, writers and thinkers; and serve as a gathering place where national and international creatives can meet and collaborate.
The inaugural exhibition, Accra: Portraits of a City, will explore the capital city and the birth of modernity, – its mythologies, rituals, social changes and structures, – through architecture, photography, sculpture, public installation, film and writing by six Ghanaian creatives. Works presented will include photographs from Deo Gratias, the oldest photography studio that is still operating in the city. Established in the 19th century, Accra’s history has been documented through photography since its very beginning.
Deo Gratias’ archive tells of Accra as it began – a fishing village – and documents its early architecture, and the growing modernity of its people. Felicia Abban is Ghana’s earliest known female photographer.
Her studio celebrates its 60th anniversary next year, and ANO in its remit to create cultural infrastructure in Ghana, will be turning it into the Felicia Abban Museum to preserve and showcase her work, as well as for workshops for younger photographers. Her work will be exhibited for the first time in the exhibition.
Exhibiting alongside photography showcasing Accra’s growth as a city, will be a series of radical structures by young architects Latifah Idriss and Mae Ling Lokko, who reflect on the history of architecture and how it has shaped the identity of the city. Sculptures from Paa Joe whose fantasy coffins incorporate symbols of every day life in Accra into the rite of death at funerals, as well as being exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, are also included. An installation and performance on the Kpeshie Lagoon by Serge Attukwei Clottey will explore Ghana’s enduring philosophical and mythological traditions, and what they mean to a contemporary Ghanaian audience.
The exhibition will also mark the launch of the Cultural Encyclopaedia in Ghana. This online project was established to make historical and contemporary cultural knowledge of Ghana accessible to a wider audience. Accompanying the exhibition will be a public programme of talks and workshops running at ANO, local schools and universities; and a book and film created by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim.
Photographic Archive & Digitisation Project
Esi Sutherland-Addy, Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Allotey Bruce-Konuah and Seton Nicholas
23rd March 2015
On 23rd March 2015, Esi Sutherland-Addy, Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Allotey Bruce-Konuah and Seton Nicholas met at the Mmofra Foundation to discuss the possibilities of collaboration on the archiving and digitisation of Ghanaian photography. It was agreed that there was a need to set up: A sustainable platform in different forms, both digital and spatial (incl. family albums, works by photographers Willis E. Bell, James Barnor and others). Services for photographers, (incl. exhibitions, workshops, training & publications).
Structural collaboration would involve each organisation drawing on its strengths and existing services in order to create a greater whole:
Creative Direction, publications
Everyoung JBA Archive
An online digital photographic archive which will be open to all photographers, film makers, Videographers, Television Stations/Production Houses, visual communication specialists, organizations, corporations and individuals that may not necessarily be media specialists to store their images online.
Location, Equipment & Experience in archiving training
Workshops & Training for photographers.
Exhibition with Larry Achiampong, Serge Attukwei Clottey, Ibrahim Mahama, Zohra Opoku & Elisabeth Sutherland
Dak’art, St Louis, 2014
Masking or the Masquerade is often as much about what it unmasks or reveals as what it masks or hides.
Every once in a while, a group of artists emerges whose work, though entirely disparate in form or place or methodology, is so in tune with the spirit of the moment that they seem to have been created in dialogue with one another. One such group is currently emerging through the roots of Ghana and the many branches of its Diaspora.
To be in Ghana now is to hear a chorus of many different textures, – music, design, theatre, – that through their forms, question seemingly accepted ways of being, whispering of new ways one; discarding, retaining what is useful and remoulding. One of these creative reimaginings is of the classical form of the Masquerade.
Often starting from the personal, with the I (like in classical narrative forms such as the Ayan of the Akan), then having it represent the many. In Larry Achiampong’s work, his Cloudface, embedded in his personal, but also the ubiquitous and recognisable iconography of West African homes in the Diaspora, – the thick soft carpet, the glint frames, the patterned wallpaper, – becomes a form of protest, of marking out difference.
In Zohra Opoku’s work, with its starting point of growing up Ghanaian in the former East Germany with no reference or image to represent herself; masks as protection, materials and fabrics as armour; markers, of identity, of layered communication.
Serge Attukwei Clottey uses sculpture and his theatre group Golokal to explore one of the concrete purposes of masquerade, the peformative retelling and passing down of history, to delve into the stories of his own personal provenance as well as more collective ones, adding his own embellishments and marks so that though the essence comes through, each time it is constituted anew.
In Elisabeth Efua Sutherland’s experimental play Dreamscape, masked dancing figures traverse six worlds, following through the premise of what happens if the abstract, in the shape of our fears, is made real. Ibrahim Mahama masks market places, railway bridges, museums with commonplace jute cloth, repurposed sacks used first for cocoa and then charcoal, renders the familiar unfamiliar, so that unconsciously perhaps we begin to see things as we might not have before.The exhibition takes place for the inaugural workshop of the long-term Cultural Encyclopaedia Project. Frustrated by the context within which our work was received, either too simply or erroneously complicated, I conceived of the Cultural Encyclopaedia as a means of providing a wider spectrum, of taking back control of our own narratives. Both digitally and in print form, the Cultural Encyclopaedia will be a space of information, innovation, discovery and depth. Inspired by some of the historical ways of passing down knowledge, particularly the Adae ceremonies of the Akan, in which youths were able to learn from their elders.
The structure of the Cultural Encyclopaedia is such that researchers gather and document material (articles, essays, books, theses etc.) in a number of subject areas ranging from Art and Archaeology to Maths, Science and Economics, which form the cultural foundations of a country. The editors, accomplished, emerging specialists in their fields, make selections from the database of material published online for the printed versions; with the editorial guidance of recognised and well-established authorities. The Cultural Encyclopaedia aims in no way to be definitive, but rather heuristic, a starting point, and will eventually span 54 volumes to represent the countries of Africa. The first one, Ghana, is in progress, and the workshop will bring together its editors to discuss process and methodologies, as well as to connect them with the editors of the next Encyclopaedia, Senegal, putting in place a network, or stream of moving knowledge.
This is (R)evolution
ANO Research Exhibition with Jørund Aase Falkenberg, Toril Johannesen & Christine Urdal Stavanger Kunsthall.
This is (R)evolution exhibition at the Stavanger Kunsthall in Norway was a research exhibition, on the oil found in Ghana in 2007, as well as at the changes that have already occurred and are still happening in Norway since its story with oil and gas begun in 1960s.
Norway is being held up as an example for Ghana to follow in its forthcoming story as an oil nation, and Stavanger is Norway’s oil capital.
Included in the exhibition was an archive and library, extracts from a film Nana Oforiatta Ayim was making, looking at the relationship between time, money, oil and culture, as well as works by Toril Johannessen, Jorund Aase Falkenberg and Signe Christine Urdal, that looked at the relativities of culture, value and perception, as well as the material process of oil, and at people involved in the binary relationships of Oil for Development, both from Ghana and Norway.
Exhibition with Sammy Arthur, Thomas Fynn & Nii Obodai, British Council
In Ghana, as in many other parts of Africa, history was passed on not as a static, written history, but as a living history, told through material culture. This notion of living history is brought alive in events known as ‘festivals’. Through the re-enactments of historical events, such as migrations; through the objects, which tell the stories of former societies; through the horns and drums, which still today lament the passing of great rulers, we participate in a past, which becomes present and thus begins to inform our future. This exhibition looks at these events through the lenses of three contemporary Ghanaian photographers that each take a different approach to their subject and reveal different aspects of this living history.
For Samuel Arthur, also known as Big Sam Photos, pictures tell stories of what has happened in the past, he photographs in order to document the present for future prosperity. His past photography for royals, such as Okuapehene Oseadeayo Addo Dankwa III means that the demarcations of subject and object disappear in his portrayals of the Odwira of the Akuapem people, which is held to purify people of the past and strengthen them for future prosperity, peace and unity.
Images, such as that of Okuapehemaa Nana Dokua I, riding in her palanquin, are the ones we have come to associate with these events, but on another level, the images of the Okuapehene and of the Krontihene in mourning cloth reveal the solemn remembrance that also takes place. The symbolism of these events is made apparent by the hands of the Krontihene held in deference to the unseen Paramount, the Okuapehene and the fingers of the audience silently supporting and encouraging him in his eloquent dance. The drummers, who through drum language encode and preserve culture and thus history, are here calling people to gather, though at other times, they instrumentally relay the history of the state.
Photographer Nii Obodai examines the nature of cultural aesthetics in his work. He dreams of travelling universes, to which being an image-maker allows him to come closer. His poetic approach has been sought after in exhibitions in Accra, Bamako and Paris and reveals itself in these evocative black and white photographs of the Homowo of the Ga People, which recounts the migration of the Gas to present day. These pictures again reveal the system of encoding history in the drum and horn language, which has crossed over into the many cultures that make up Ghana today. They also capture the moment following libation, a form of recalling the deeds and legacies of forebears. Conversely, they are also a living testimony to the fluidity of history in these events. The ‘chief’ captured in these pictures is, according the linguist of one of the major Ga stools, no chief at all, but the accruements of chieftaincy help him to recreate himself as such. History here as so often is the case is created in order to suit a certain trajectory and in time is passed on as ‘truth’.
Thomas Fynn’s pictures, which aim at portraying Ghana’s rich culture, have resulted in a wide range of exhibitions throughout Ghana as well as internationally at events, in Germany, the Netherlands and Japan. His clear-sighted, objective and vivid approach to his subject is evident in these images of the Aboakyer, which is held yearly to renew the Effutus of Winneba. The woman seen here is dressed for the annual deer-hunting exercise, in which a deer is hunted for the rejuvenation of the people. This is done primarily by the Asafo Companies, such as the ones seen here in their company uniform, carrying flags, which depict events in the history of the company. The deer carried here is covered with medicine to alleviate its suffering and is paraded through the town, as part of the royal procession also pictured here.
The replacement of informal education systems with formal ones introduced by British colonialists has meant that our history is viewed through the lens of colonialism. This narrow view of our history, which divides it into pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial, denies it of the depth, context and complexity of the peoples that make up Ghana today.
In the past, history was passed on orally or in forms such as the drum language, an elaborate system of instrumentally encoding and preserving culture. Myths as well as stories of dynasties and migration were, and still are, recounted at events, known as ‘festivals’, which themselves form a kind of cultural text that can be decoded to reveal the histories of the people that partake in the event.
Like so many words that are remnants of colonial rule, such as ‘chief’, which does not begin to portray the many different layers and levels of the office it seeks to describe or ‘fetish’, which is still today used as a general term to denote anything to do with pre-colonial religions; the word ‘festival’ does little to convey the historical and often sacred significance of the events.
The survival of these events over time, like the institution known as chieftaincy, means that they remain relevant to a large part of the population. They are occasions on which people from the cities travel back to their hometowns or the towns of friends. Although the deeper meaning of the events, the literacy of texts, such as the drum texts, and the ideology embedded in them, have suffered a dramatic loss of value in contemporary Ghanaian society. In addition to this, many of the rites associated with these events are seen as clashing with modern religions, such as Christianity or Islam, though many manage to incorporate some of the cultural values of these events.
As cultural texts, they allow for a fluidity of history, in which participants are able to constantly recreate themselves as well as strengthen socio-political links within and across boundaries. And even though these events might seem as if they have remained static for centuries, they have often evolved with time, incorporating elements of Christianity or Islam and shedding rites that have proved anachronistic.
Historical commemorations often overlap with thanksgiving rites; in the Greater Accra Region, the Ga people celebrate Homowo, a harvest festival, which recounts the migration of the Gas to present day Accra, when according to Ga oral tradition, a severe famine broke out among the people, which inspired massive food production and eventually led to a successful harvest.
At other times, they are held to purify people of the past and strengthen them for future prosperity, peace and unity, such as the Odwira festival of the Akuapem or the Aboakyer of the Effutus.
This constant renewal of self through a reminder of the deeds and legacies of forebears and a cleansing of the past allows for a cyclical notion of time, in which the past and the present become one and thus, a living history.
Fashion in Motion
Joel Andrianomearisoa, Xuly Bet, Hassan Hajjaj, Victoria and Albert. 2005
Fashion in Motion is a series of live catwalk events presented at the V&A. Featuring some of the greatest designers of our time; Fashion in Motion brings catwalk couture to a wider audience by modeling it against the beautiful backdrop of the Museum.
Fashion in Motion Africa was presented as part of Friday Late Africa and featured three contemporary fashion designers working in Africa and Europe. The three designers were Lamine Badian Kouyaté, Joel Andrianomearisoa and Hassan Hajjaj whose collections were shown at the V&A's Raphael Gallery in September 2005
Exhibition with Loulou Cherinet, Gera, Abdoulaye Konate, Zwelethu Methethwa, Tracey Rose & Cyprien Toukoudagba, LSHTM,
An exhibition that looked at forms of healing through the eyes of contemporary artists from Africa and the Diaspora, from Ethiopian wisdom or tebab, to the Vodou religion of Benin and the Sangoma of South Africa, from ritual to death; it uncovers the connections between healing and art in all its spiritual, societal and political dimensions.
On the ground floor ‘Bleeding Men’ a video by Ethiopian/Swedish artist Loulou Cherinet which was shot in Alexandria. It shows a group of six men, dressed in white, cutting themselves and bleeding to death, getting up and starting the whole cycle again. The piece evokes associations of death and rebirth as well as notions of individuality and community; an individual’s sole vision or ‘madness’ is sanctified or ritualised by the inclusion of others.
Downstairs, San Pedro VI – ‘The Hope I hope’, a video by South African artist, Tracey Rose shows the character San Pedro who has made appearances in Rose’s previous work. In trademark fishnet tights, tiara and pink skin, she makes allusions to St. Peter, ‘ideals’ of beauty and masquerade. San Pedro is seen playing the Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, against the backdrop of the wall dividing Israel and Palestine – the ‘apartheid wall’.
This wall can be seen to present a form of political hygiene; a symbolic barrier to chaos, to the pollution of one side by another.
The link is underlined by San Pedro’s urination against the wall, which as the artist points out is not so far from ‘You’re a nation’.
On the ceilings of the staircases, photographs by Zwelethu Mthethwa of healers and their paraphernalia show the Sangoma of South Africa in the urban surroundings of Durban and Johannesburg. These healers have moved from the rural areas to take prime space in the city centre, the political shift has been followed by/shift from the periphery to the centre and from being merely customers to being the producers or traders.
On the first floor, paintings by Cyprien Tokoudagba, such as the rainbow-snake, Dan Aido-huedo, representing human life and prosperity, are symbolic of the Vodou religion of Benin. Around two-thirds of its 6 million inhabitants practice the faith, which is an official religion along with Christianity and Islam. Vodou translates from the Fon language of Benin as ‘spirit’ or ‘god’. It lays emphasis on the maintenance of harmony with the spirit world. The Vodou system of holistic medicine is founded on a solid knowledge of herbs and on the idea of establishing and maintaining equilibrium between human vital energy, family/community obligations and the spiritual world.
On the second floor, Ethiopian artist-healer Gera, has renewed the talismanic art, which is medicinal as well as aesthetic, in contemporary form. The mysteries of the talismans form part of the Ethiopian wisdom or tebab, aspects of which derive from the same sources as alchemy and the Kabbala. The talismans have a mirrorlike functioning; in which clerics like Gera ask patients to describe their illnesses and include these in colours and forms in the talismans. On seeing their likeness in form, the depicted demons are said to flee from the body of the patient. This device can be traced back to Solomon who allegedly controlled spirits by showing them portraits of them that he had drawn.
On the third floor is Tracey Rose’s video ‘Waiting for God’ is shot on the Mount of Olives, a place sacred to Jews, Christians and
Muslims alike. The character climbs up the hill and sits, waiting, between the domes of a Christian church and a Mosque, at one point taking on the form of the third pillar or dome. This meditative piece, with references ranging from Beckett to Sunra, is particularly poignant when the chimes of the church succeed the sound of the prayers of the Mosque, though it is the ending that throws light on the process.
On the final floor, the wall-hanging by Abdoulaye Konate is inspired by a form of women’s weaving in Mali. It deals with the issues of HIV/Aids and shows a figure from the back leaving the scene. At the bottom of the hanging sits a chest – a memory box reminiscent of ancestral boxes, historically made use of in many parts of Africa. These days, parents who are HIV-positive as a legacy create memory boxes; a means of passing down history to those they leave behind.
• Loulou Cherinet worked at the Goteborg Konstmuseum in Sweden, before dedicating herself to painting for two years in Indonesia. In 1996, she enrolled at the University School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Abeba and returned to Sweden to study at the art academy. She works primarily with the video medium and has taken part in exhibitions internationally, including the Sydney Biennale and the Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine in Bamako.
• Gera found himself drawn towards traditional medicine during his studies and began work as a healer with plants, prayers and talismen. He developed a pictoral language to explain the secrets of the talisman and thus began his artistic practise. His paintings are colourful geometric compositions that combine symbols and signs. His work has been shown amongst other places at the Biennale in Lyon, the Museum for African Art in New York and the Musee National des Art d’Afrique et d’Oceanie in Paris.
• Abdoulaye Konate studied painting at the Institut National des Arts in Bamako and completed his education at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havanna, Cuba. He worked as a graphic designer at the Musee National in Bamako and in 1998 he was appointed Director of the Palais de la Culture. He was also Director of the ‘Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine’ in Bamako. He has received several awards and his works are to be found in many private and public collections. In 2002, he received the Chevalier d’Ordre National du Mali and Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France.
• Zwelethu Mthethwa’s work is largely concerned with people in South Africa who immigrated into urban centres in the 1980s. For this exhibition he has photographed traditional healers with the tools of their trade in urban settings. He has had numerous international exhibitions and will be shown at the Venice Biennale later this year.
• Tracey Rose completed her studies in fine art at Wiwatersrand, Johannesburg in 1996. In much of her work, she investigates questions of gender and colour, often through the visual motifs of her own body. She has presented performances at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, the 49th Biennale in Venice.
• Cyprien Tokoudagba received his first commission for the restoration of a Vodoun Temple. After his inclusion in the Paris exhibition ‘Magiciens de la Terre’, he began to paint on canvas. His work, in which the Voudun universe plays a large part, connects the African Diaspora with the history of a part of the continent.
• Nana Oforiatta Ayim writes and curates on contemporary African art. After completing her MA in African art and anthropology, she worked for the magazine, Revue Noire in Paris and for The Statesman in Accra and for organisations, such as the British Museum and the Liverpool Biennale. In the exhibitions she curates and her writing, she explores a non-Western approach to art. She currently holds an AHRB award for research into drum languages in Ghana and is working on projects of contemporary African culture with the Royal Festival Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Exhibition with Mawuli Afatsiawo, Marigold Akufo-Addo, El Anatsui, Owusu Ankomah, Panji Anoff and Araba Hackman
Liverpool Biennale, 2002
ANO’s first exhibition ONE took place in 2002 for the Liverpool Biennial. Curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim noticed how art or culture, especially in my hometown of Kyebi, was not seen as something discrete or separate, to be regarded in specially walled off spaces, but as something immersive, and part of life, and dynamic.
Bringing this porousness into the first exhibition, not just in its content, but also its form. There was research about various architectural spaces in Ghana, and the exhibition was intended to recreate the historical structure of Akan (my ethnic group) architecture, which centered around a courtyard, and where each room had a function, whether it was for recreation or spiritual meditation.
In the middle of the courtyard, there was always what is called a Nyame Dua, a tree that connects you and the household with the Divinity with the past, present, and future. The structures of an Akan courtyard were reconstructed into a warehouse in Liverpool, and in the middle placed El Anatsui’s wooden sculpture ‘Akua ba’, made up of driftwood and a monument to the children of ‘Akua’ shipped off to slavery, some of whom where forever lost out at sea, was especially poignant in the context of Liverpool’s historical ties to the slavery industry.
In the other rooms, hung paintings by Owusu Ankomah, and video works by Mawuli Afatsiawo, with specially commissioned furniture by Selassie Tetevie, as well as bottles of palm wine, so that the artwork formed not a backdrop, so much as a context for conversation.
In what was historically, the ‘spirit room’ Panji Anoff of Pigin Music, and Nii Noi Nortey had created a soundtrack, and musical instruments were brought from Ghana, so that people could spend time in what proved to be the most popular space in the exhibition.
Marigold Akufo-Addo, created a backdrop inspired by the backdrops used by photographers, in Ghana, and across West Africa for their subjects, and Araba Hackman designed a collection of clothes for women and men, and visitors to the exhibition were able to take polaroids dressed in the clothes, in front of the backdrop.
The idea of the exhibition was to be immersive and not detached, to bring a multi-dimensional experience of Ghana and its culture into a warehouse space in Liverpool.