Mobile Museum - Greater Accra, December 2019
Museums can be storehouses of knowledge, spaces we go in order to see ourselves represented, our histories retold, our present reflected, places we can go to help build our futures. In Ghana, Afahye or festivals, like the Homowo, Odwira, Hogbetsotso and the Damba, are where historically cultural knowledge is passed on, where people come together and exchange, and collective identities are forged. And yet none of this dynamism is apparent in the museums we have across the country. Instead our museums were built on imperial Western models, which are themselves going through a period of crisis.
We created a Mobile Museum made up of objects, photographs, paintings, films, and oral histories collected from each region and exhibited in those regions; as well as series of workshops and discussions.
In its research, ANO has been drawing on knowledge keepers who have said that historically we had knowledge systems rather than religions, and that the aim of these systems was Ani bue or Hiŋmɛigblemɔ, the opening of the eye, or enlightenment. Each Mobile Museum will look at the culture and knowledge systems of each region, how we historically understood the world around us, how this has changed today, and how we might build on this for the future.
The Accra Mobile Museum explored and celebrate Ga culture, or lɛɛ.
It encompassed a sculpture of a Wulomei, mediums through whom wisdom was passed down, by Kwasi Darko, as well as items, such as Nyanyara, a plant with medicinal and anti-bacterial properties that was used for purification, collected by Samoa.
It also includes a painting of the Ga Samai by Samoa, the Ga symbols, we are all familiar with the Adinkra symbols, but other ethnic groups have symbols just as important that depict proverbs and philosophical sayings.
Another painting by Albert Mills depicts an eagle, a symbol of the Asere people, one of the seven clans of the Ga, where animal symbolism represents the strengths of the various clans. We also have a crab necklace also worn by the Asere people, as well as buffalo horns used to represent twins at the annual twin festival.
Some of these animals are also depicted in the fantasy coffin of a fish by Eric Kpapko who took on the tradition from Paa Joe and Kane Kwei before him; and in the paintings of Ataa Oko, another of the renowned Ga fantasy coffin makers who started life as a fisherman.
Greater Accra, Mobile Museum
Fishing of course has always been at the very heart of Ga commerce and culture and photographs by Jessica Sarkodie depict fishing communities and the Jamestown lighthouse.
Former mayor and architectural historian, Nat Nuno Amartefeio speaks in his oral history about how the architecture of the city Accra emerged out the needs of each era. There is a large photograph of his mother and her siblings taken in the 1920s by I.K. Bruce Vanderpuije who was owner of what is now Ghana’s oldest serving photography studio, which has documented the changing city for the last hundred years.
Each object, painting and photograph is accompanied by a film made by Nana Oforiatta Ayim, where subjects speak about the meanings behind them.
Agbako Lacma, 2015
There was a series of dance, drawing, design and history workshops; as well as a discussion on some of the challenges of the community, and potential action plans for their resolution.
Here is a virtual tour created by that shows the interior of the museum.
ANO, Accra, August, 2018
Museums created from imperialist impulses are beginning to rethink their remit, purpose and methodology. The same objects and garments housed in glass cases in the British Museum or in the vaults at the Humboldt, some centuries old, are brought out year after year at Afahye or festivals e.g. in Ghana, from the Homowo through to the Odwira to the Chale Wote, a contemporary festival set up in 2011, and used in performances and acts that engage multitudes either connected with the stories of those material goods, or witnesses to them.
The art forms present in these have been largely used for many centuries in the courts and kingdoms that make up what is now known as Ghana, but they are not relics of the past. Even though some of these are threadbare, worn by age and use, there is an honouring of their initial impetus lacking from the perfectly preserved objects in museums
This notion of the dynamic fluidity of time is often absent in museum spaces, fixed as they are on the singularity of one spatial story or telling. In the transmitters of culture within Ghana – the Afahye, or festivals – time is a fluid mechanism. How, then,can we retain the dynamism, inclusivity and participatory nature of these open cultural phenomena, while encompassing more contained, immersive transmissions of culture? How do we create a space – one that offers growth, insight, learning and transcendence through culture – for all, not just one privileged social class?
How do we write about, contextualise or house art that does not take on wholesale imported paradigms, such as Western theories and methodologies of description and interpretation, hermeneutics, phenomenology and so forth, without ignoring knowledge of them either? How do we begin to create cultural contexts, narratives and histories integral to the cultures they come from?
Mobile Museum Tour
Ghana, Summer 2018
In the summer of 2018, ANO traveled the ten regions of the country on a “listening and learning tour” across the ten regions of the country, exploring with participants from communities, and across generations how culture impacts their lives, and what kinds of access to, and infrastructure is needed in the country, which will be archived on the Cultural Encyclopaedia website and ANO social media platforms.