Mobile Museums

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.

FUTURE MUSEUMS

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.

Kiosk Museum

Chale Wote Street Art Festival, August 2016

For 2016 year’s Chale Wote Street Art Festival, we collaborated with Photographer Ofoe Amegavie for our Moving Museum installation. The Museum showed some captivating photos of traditional festivals in Ghana. The CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival is an alternative platform that brings art, music, dance and performance out into the streets. This year’s theme SPIRIT ROBOT (15 -21 August 2016) reprograms history by melding West African mythology and artistic practice in a radical unveiling of alternative African realities; reclaiming memory maps about who we are and where we are going; and opening up a blueprint for radical reconstruction of our realities and pan-African building.

 

ANO is a cultural institution set up by Nana Oforiatta Ayim in order to create new narratives, sustainability in the arts, and the transformation of social contexts, through publications, films, collaborations, and research initiatives, like the pan-African CULTURAL ENCYCLOPAEDIA, – a large-scale documentation and archive project, that facilitates the re/ordering of knowledge, narratives and representations from and about the African continent, through a digital platform and in published volumes. Between the 17th and 21st of August 2016, ANO will hold the Cultural Encyclopaedia’s first Accra-based WORKSHOP, as well as setting up its travelling KIOSK MUSEUM as part of the Chale Wote festival.

 

FESTIVALS are, and have been, Ghana’s primary form of cultural expression, comprising art, design, music, poetry, history, politics, and religion, from the Homowo through the Odwira to the Chale Wote. 

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 lament the passing of great rulers, we participate in a past, which becomes present and begins to inform our future. 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. Through the CULTURAL ENCYCLOPAEDIA WORKSHOP on 17 August, we invite you to join us to create entries in a collective space, on festivals, their histories and meanings, from books and articles present, and thus to actively participate in formulating new narratives and representations, from and about the African continent.

 

The MUSEUM in the Ghanaian context, is a problematic interpreter of cultural heritage and knowledge. Many seem inaccessible; public displays seem irrelevant and unrepresentative of the cultural wealth inherent in the country. The KIOSK, on the other hand is ubiquitous. All around the country, people with few resources, create these structures for housing, for trade and commerce, whether barbershops, restaurants, hardware stores, or entertainment centres.

 

The kiosk with its total accessibility and multi-purpose use is the perfect vehicle for ANO, as it travels across the country, collecting materials, as well as exhibiting and interact with communities. ANO’s KIOSK MUSEUM, built by architect DK Osseo-Asare, will be at the Chale Wote Street Art Festival from 19 – 21 August, showing works by photographer Ofoe Amegavie, who over the last year, has been travelling the country documenting festivals. ANO aims to not only explore alternative forms of content and narrative, but also of form, using cultural expressions, like the festival, as inspirations to tell history in a way that is creative and innovative. So, that e.g., the drum orchestra, one of the festival’s foremost forms of history telling, is reflected in the collaborative effort of the ANO team, made up of Director Nana Oforiatta Ayim, who conceived the Cultural Encyclopaedia and the Kiosk Museum; Coordinator Namata Musisi and Development Director Sefa Gohoho, who collected and arranged the objects in the museum; Research Curator Moses Serubiri, who created the Museum soundscape, and with Researcher Drew Snyder put together the workshops on festivals and their findings; and interns Evi Olde Rikkert and Jonelle Twum, who created the booklet comprising their visual and written impressions from the festivals. 

Chale Wote Festival, 2015

Chale Wote Festival, 2015

The Living History Hub is a purpose-built structure/kiosk that revolutionizes the idea of what a museum is and can be, that will be built as an adjunct the Cultural Encyclopaedia, a large-scale documentation and archive project, dedicated to mapping trajectories and the re/ordering of knowledge, narratives and representations from and about the African continent.

 

The architecture of the Hub will be based on the kiosk model, the makeshift structures ubiquitous in Ghanaian streets and throughout Africa, and will exhibit objects, photographs, documents of inhabitants of Accra, contextualized and written about by archivists; alongside videos and audio recordings of oral testimonies and histories, which will be edited into a radio programme and podcasts about the cultural history of Jamestown/Accra. In addition to this, a number of schools from the area will be invited for a series of workshops, in which the contextualized objects will respond to the school curriculum, into subjects such as history, geography, language, and science, with activities held around them.

 

The CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival is an alternative platform that brings art, music, dance and performance out into the streets. The festival targets exchanges between scores of local and international artists and patrons by creating and appreciating art together. Since 2011, CHALE WOTE has included street painting, graffiti murals, photography, theater, spoken word, interactive art installations, live street performances, extreme sports, film shows, a fashion parade, a music block party, recyclable design workshops and much more.

This year, CHALE WOTE is tapping into a super power grid. Over the last 50 years, Ghana has been caught in a web of instability. Despite “Independence,” the country has not been able to create autonomy for the state or its citizens. If we are unable to think ourselves out of this state of hyper debt and powerlessness, we will one day become permanently crippled, or worse, extinct. We have now reached a point that requires the impossible. Ghana is filled with an abundance of natural resources, including an ever-present beaming sun. So how can we, as people, tap into the natural, human and man-made resources surrounding us? How can we imagine and create more fulfilling lives?

These questions shape the theme of this year’s CHALE WOTE. In 2015, we meditate into action on the term, African Electronics.

African Electronics is a popular term describing indigenous esoteric knowledge that Ghanaians use to create the impossible. It is the grand manifestation of our most powerful creative ability as a people, the cryogenic refrigerant that has kept our technologies alive across time. It is a way out – a secret pathway to possibilities unseen before. Through this portal, we document histories of triumph, innovation and encounters with the unimaginable. It is the magic wand that creates what we want at will and transports us wherever we want to go. African Electronics is timelessly regenerating the next wave of transformative energy. Here are no more borders, no need for passports and aircrafts. New frequencies are recreating Ghana, Africa, and the world, through a tunnel traveling from the past through the future. With African Electronics, we look at how race, culture, art and technology merge to create a different kind of world that is inclusive, diverse, electric, and on the move. How do we imagine a world where we are technology and in full control of our systems and data – our histories, realities, and dreams?

Kiosk Culture Exhibition

Dk Osseo Asare, Latifah Idriss & Yaw Brobbey Kyei

ANO, Accra, 2015

My first direct encounter with the kiosk was earlier this year. ANO’s current primary research project is a pan-African online and multi-volume Cultural Encyclopaedia. I am collecting formal knowledge, as well as more informal knowledge in the form of oral histories, material objects, and old photographs. The museum in the Ghanaian, and wider African context, is a problematic interpreter of cultural heritage and knowledge. The National Museum in Accra is, apart from the occasional tourist, hardly visited, and its public display seems irrelevant and unrepresentative of the cultural wealth inherent in the country.

 

What then would be a form more suited to our context that would not alienate, but rather welcome people to explore its contents? The kiosk with its total accessibility and multi-purpose use seemed the perfect vehicle, not only for collecting materials, but to exhibit and interact with communities as it travels across the country.

 

At the Chale Wote festival in August 2015, the theme was African Electronics and historical, creative innovations and their contemporary permutations. I created the Living History Hub filled with photographs, objects, contextualisations and a film I made, documenting the festivals, rites, and social realities of Jamestown, the raw and vibrant commercial and fishing centre where the festival takes place.

 I called it Agbako, which means, Untold, in the Ga language, to represent the many histories that are not absent, but merely hidden or unexpounded. It was created in collaboration with the architect DK Osseo Asare, who is also part of this publication and exhibition. He has long been fascinated by the structure of the kiosk, and has designed several microstructures, that reinterpret its form in economical and environmentally friendly ways.

 

These mini-typologies include bamboo kiosks, solar power, water collection and purification strategies, and come together in a manifesto he terms Africentricity, based on the everyday reality of how we use the city. It also includes Yaw Kyei Brobbey, an MFA student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, whose work I first came across last year, and who I have been in conversation with since. I was fascinated by the almost scientific taxonomy he was creating of the form of the kiosk, repeatedly capturing its singular forms, mimicking the repetitive appearance of kiosks within the urban landscape; drawing with felt on cardboard, sometimes still stained from their former use, to reflect the crude, makeshift nature of the kiosk, as well as the found nature of the materials that go into making them. It was my meeting with Latifah Idriss, a BSC architecture student at KNUST, and her synchronistic engagement with the kiosk form that was the catalyst for this, ANO’s first production and manifestation in its new home. She spoke of architecture as sculpture, evolving into habitable forms, to meet the needs of its environment and culture, as well as their essence and personality. Her travels across the country documented the kiosk’s different usages, – commercial, domestic, and hybrid; and her renderings imagined future, aesthetically innovative versions of the kiosk.

 

A specially designed soundscape was created and performed by Sound Artist Lawrence Baganiah, made up of layers of kiosk sounds and ambience. Mixes of found and recorded sounds spliced market sellers, car mechanics, footsteps, bird chirps, industrial machines, national speeches, high life music, etc. Baganiah’s live operations borrow from DJ aesthetics and techniques while grunts, low rustles, carnal moans, earthly whistles, flow out of objects and reverberate across walls.

Atlas Room

Visionary Africa, ANO Research Exhibition with David Adjaye, Palais des Beaux-Arts,

Brussels, 2010

Artworks provide us with traces of cultural memory through the histories of specific objects as well as the shifts in the value and interpretation of those objects. Although, we can learn from comparative investigations of different cultures, there is no common narrative, no overarching single African history. Dividing artworks by ethnic group or ‘tribe’ see

Artworks can tell us about the dynamism of social constructions and interactions. They can also tell us of how local cultural innovation provided the basis for engagements with the world beyond. Islamic influences in decorative arts and textiles can tell us about the trans-Saharan trade with Egypt.

 

Christian influences in Kongo art tells us of 19th and 20th Century missionary activity.ms specious when we read that even the ancient social and cultural unity among the Yoruba kingdoms and communities may be a post-1850 development.

Looking at African objects in colonial museums and some of the expeditions that led to them being there, as well as the collection strategies of national museums provide us with narratives of colonialism and nation-building.

ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge,

Lokko Rd, Accra, Ghana.

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