Zohra Opoku: Sassa
Gallery 1957, Accra, June 2016
The concept Sassa is described in some writings as the soul, as the universal energy that is invisible, but always present; in others it is referred to as Sasa, the restless, often vengeful, spirit of one whose death was somehow unnatural.
In her work, Opoku explores her own versions and concepts of what constitutes the self through time and place and through the elements around her, inventing her own rituals and traditions.
She defines for herself her own version of what Sassa is, and can be, whether through her portraits of the Ahemaa, the Queen Mothers of the Ashanti, her father’s region; in the series of Bodymasks that explore her family identity, both Ghanaian and German, as well as her sense of home; and in her self-portraits, in which the artist, merging with nature, determines how much of herself she reveals.
Serge Attukwei Clottey: My Mother’s Wardrobe
Gallery 1957, Accra, March 2016
The exhibition My Mother’s Wardrobe comprises a series of works inspired by the aftermath of the death of the artist Serge Attukwei Clottey’s mother, overlaying narratives of personal, family and collective histories.
According to custom in many parts of Ghana, a person’s wardrobe is locked up for a year after their death then released to relatives, often leaving the person’s offspring with little or nothing of the material memory of that person, especially as in the case of the artist, if he is an only son with no sisters.
Textiles and materials in Ghana, and other parts of West Africa, — each weft, line or mark — are potent carriers of memory, of communication, and the artist weaves into his sculptures subtle traces of loss, remembering, and of rebirth.
In form, Clottey draws on the interplay of the international and local, incorporating the universal and recurring theme of the barcode alongside the aesthetic structure of Ga Kpanlago rhythms, commenting on the enduring discourse of waxprint’s local demand and international production, from Indonesia to Holland to China.
Abstracting his environment, into monuments such as The Independence Arch, and the Jamestown and Labadi beachscapes so prevalent in his early paintings and current sculptural installations, the pieces, like the cloth they draw on, take on subtle semantic and communicative tones, there if you know where and how to look.
The exhibition is accompanied by a performance on Independence Day, March 6th, that will expand on some of the themes of the exhibition, the personal brought into the collective, the feminine aspects of protest, and of becoming.
Men and women dressed in their mothers’ wardrobes, reaffirming the quieter role of the feminine in the often masculinised, bombastic, conflict-driven narratives of history; honouring women as collectors and custodians of those cloths that act as markers of time and change, both in collective ways: documenting aesthetically the various political events of the country, and the changes in social values, from visual proverbs to symbols of technology, telephones, televisions, computers; as well as in personal ways: celebrating in colour and form the many stages of a person’s life, from birth to death.
The exhibition is a result of a residency with ANO, whose remit is to uncover some of the hidden and alternative, personal and collective histories, that make up what is now known as Ghana. Serge Attukwei Clottey’s is the first in a series of exhibitions under the Creative Directorship of ANO that look to expand the notion of exhibitions within a closed, limited space, and to that end, each exhibition I curate at Gallery 1957 will have an iteration in a public space, a lagoon, marketplace, on billboards, in town squares, as well as an accompanying research exhibition at ANO with a publication and film that will look into the elements and trajectories of each artist’s work as well as the deeper contexts from within which they stem, thus creating multiple layers of resonance and engagement.
Nana Oforiatta Ayim
Founder of ANO Centre for Cultural Research
Ibrahim (b. 1987) is ANO’s first Artist-in-Residence. ANO has worked in collaboration with Ibrahim through writing, curation, film and creating bridges. Ibrahim is of a new generation of artists that is redefining what art can be, how it is exhibited and how it interrogates our relationships with our selves and our surroundings.
Whether kente, adinkra, or wax print, cloth has long been a semiotic, value-transferring art form in Ghana. West African born, internationally acclaimed artists, like El Anatsui and Yinka Shonibare have carried on and reinvented this tradition by using bottle tops to take on the form of Kente or wax print to usurp Western historical and aesthetic narratives.
Ibrahim goes a step further by incorporating the provenance, narrative and context of the cloths in his work. He creates out of a commonplace material. Jute sacks imported by the Ghana Cocoa Board and repurposed by charcoal sellers are again repurposed by the artist, and exhibited in the very places they are sold.
His epic installations move out onto the streets, into marketplaces, under abandoned railway bridges, rendering what is unseen, – layers upon layers of rubbish, degradation normalised and neglected by inhabitants and their government, – visible.
In his most ambitious work to date, in a collaboration with ANO, Ibrahim covers the KNUST Museum, both inside and out, in jute cloth to give more obvious form to questions, such as – Is this Art? Who is the Artist? Is this the place for it? What is the relevance of the museum model? And what does it all mean anyway?
Ibrahim Mahama Exhibition
KNUST Museum, Kumasi, 2013
James Barnor: Independence Days
Black Cultural Archives, March 2007
In 2007, at the celebration of fifty years of Ghana’s Independence, Nana Oforiatta Ayim met a photographer, then in his late seventies, who had never had an exhibition, but whose work held a wealth of material. This begun an ongoing process with Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, in which ANO are still working on the digitisation and publication of a monograph on his work.
At the time, ANO had the first comprehensive exhibition of his work at the Black Cultural Archives. His work spoke of a history of modernity in West Africa that I had never seen expressed so eloquently.
With it being precipitated through trade with Europe and the ensuing rise in technology, so that the history of photography in Ghana turned out to be almost as old as it is elsewhere in the world. Only three years after the production of the daguerreotype by Daguerre in 1839, the French captain Bouet produced one in Elmina. Studios proliferated in the 1890s and photographers became active in a number of cities of the West African Coast.
It was this history of modernity that we tried to tell in the exhibition and in the book we are creating together. It tells of the growth of a middle class that was giving local patronage to these photographers, civil servants, market traders, ball room dancing champions. It shows Accra growing from a conglomeration of fishing, farming and salt making villages into a town inhabited by traders of gold and ivory, new buildings and changing landscapes. It shows Ghana officially coming into being as an independent nation as power was handed over from the British to the legendary Nkrumah.
It shows the birth of a modern Diaspora as the economic and political situation in Ghana caused many to leave in search of education and work in the 1960s and 70s, and documents a history I’ve often seen in private family albums, but never elsewhere of young Africans integrated into their countries of choice.
ANO are involved in an ongoing process to digitise James Barnor’s photographs and to archive them in his old studio in Accra, which we hope to transform into a small museum of photography, as mentioned above to create a monograph of his work, and to somehow integrate the histories his photographs tell into the education or knowledge system of Ghana as a whole.