A Retrospective

Photography Exhibition by James Barnor

November, 2019. Nubuke Foundation, Accra, Ghana.

There’s no way you can discuss the greats of Ghanaian Art and Photography without mentioning the works of the ever young James Barnor.

With a career taking off just after Ghana gained independence, the works of James Barnor and his contemporaries; Felicia Abban, K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, Chris Hesse, Philip Kwame Apagya and Francis K. Honny, carefully documented the new nation Ghana.

Quickly distinguishing himself, James Barnor, then a documentary and studio photographer produced breath-taking images that captured the soul and essence of Ghana in the early years as well as from his travels abroad.

“A Retrospective”, meticulously curated by Bianca Manu is an expansive body of work that displays the wide latitude of Barnor’s work, both home and abroad. Each photograph tells amazing stories that transports the viewer to the time and place, encouraging the mind to wander and travel.

Quite aptly titled, the exhibition encapsulates all aspects of life spanning from the 50’s and serves as a window for current generations to peek into, reflect and forge ahead. Albeit not distinctively clear, there’s this general quirkiness surrounding the works presented, drawing you in more and more. Barnor’s images, as a matter of fact, inspires me so much.

In essence, this extraordinary presentation at the newly re-opened Nubuke Foundation gallery space offers great insight into both the dreams and realities of the country Ghana as it came into its own. The new building’s simple, nature-clad, purposely unfinished architecture lends it a lot of character, while freeing the displayed art works from any distractions – engaging  the viewers full attention.

This was a well-attended opening and saw people from all walks of life coming in and appreciating the works of the great James Barnor. I was particularly impressed by the curation and clear categorisations of the works, as well as the accompanying ambient highlife soundscape in the gallery produced by the artist EDWVN.

Outside on the serene lawn, rhythmic local drum beats thumped repeatedly, also elegantly accompanied by melodic singing and dancing. This rich display of Ghanaian tradition was indeed a welcome addition to the event as members of the crowd joined in and danced into the late afternoon, all in celebration of the great Ghanaian artist James Barnor.

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It was also great catching up with old friends and creatives in the Ghanaian art space. Learning from masters like James Barnor, the future of the arts in Ghana definitely looks promising.

“Living Spaces”

The Architecture and Design Festival Showcase.

November, 2019. The Octagon, Accra, Ghana.

On this rather crisp Accra night, l slowly made my way to the lofty Octagon in Accra for the opening of the Ghana Architecture and Design Festival Showcase.

Initiated as part of efforts to capture the synergies, innovations, and progress being made in the building arts industry in Ghana, this event heavily involved players found across the architecture value chain; from designers, engineers, artists, decorators, business people to consumers.

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Different views on the theme of the event, “‘Living spaces,’ a showcase of local talent, concepts, ideas and models on affordable housing deficit in Ghana” were exchanged in a delightful panel discussion during the first hour.

Interesting takes were had on the country’s burgeoning housing deficit, and the concept of affordable housing which in reality is non-existent.

The second part of the show led us into the display and showcase of designs, art and interior decor by several industry players.

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I was especially impressed by the level of craftsmanship and rich display of contemporary Ghanaian art and decorations.

It was a great night interacting with architecture heads in the country. My thoughts on the architecture industry in the country? I feel there’s a lot more the industry players can do to ensure affordable housing for all Ghanaians.

More on the official webpage of the festival.

KOWALSKI vs PICASSO

Art Exhibition “Synergy” by Nicholas Kowalski.

November, 2019. Goethe Institut, Accra, Ghana.

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I recently read somewhere that the power and beauty of art lie in its potential to be interpreted. Such a lucid statement indeed.

Walking into this exhibition, I did not know what to expect. This was one of the times where I blindly followed my instincts and hoped I was making the right decision. I even had no idea what the artist or his works looked like, but ah well, a perfect way to stay out of the Accra-Spintex evening traffic.

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Upon entering the colourful room filled with large oil on canvas paintings, was a bunch of dazzled faces all admiring different pieces of work. Steadily looking around, now I gradually get to know about the artist. All the paintings are not only thought-provoking and filled with fun bright colours, they are also gleaming with excellent tiny cubic pieces forming wonderful images that tell of Ghanaian and African pride.

This colour-filled exhibition entitled “Synergy” achieves a great feat. From a distance, each artwork looks quite familiar. Like a piece of art you’ll come across browsing through the tightly clustered small artefacts shops on the Osu Oxford street. However, the artist Nicholas Kowalski’s ingenuity shines through as he embeds each element on the canvas with layers of subtlety and depth at the same time. The way the different pieces crystallise on the canvas is divine and you can’t help but keep staring.

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Speaking at an art talk organised at the same venue, two weeks after the opening, Kowalski explains why the title “Synergy”. Synergy because each painting endeavours to bring all the elements of art harmoniously into a cohesive, distinctive and structured manner – shapes, lines, form, texture, value and colour in all their glory.

Kowalski a Ghanaian from the Central Region, also attributes his rich artistic vocabulary to his recent trip around all the regions of Ghana; staying and soaking in as much of the culture from each group, while seeking connections and points of divergence.

It was also quite interesting to hear him speak about his escapades in the 90s from London to New York, when New York was the melting pot of art and creativity.

Commenting generally on the concept of cubic art, Kowalski explains that Picasso picked influences from his encounter with African masks. This hit me as quite an eye-opening take on the subject. Cubic art or cubism is a style of modern art spearheaded by Pablo Picasso in the 20th century in his quest to challenge conventional forms and to express new ways of seeing the new world.

Circling back to the artworks on display, it is quite obvious Kowalski’s strong affinity for fishes. He credits this iteration to his study of the nature of fishes and the many lessons inherent thereof. According to him, fishes are amazing creatures that have mastered their craft and are also truly free in the entire sense of the word.   

On the whole, this was a splendid exhibition, from the conversations  had and connections made during the opening to the insights shared and gathered during the art talk. Works of art, seen and appreciated in different ways trigger dialogue and further challenge our normal habits of thinking. Art urges us to keep questioning what we “know” all in an effort to move ahead in life.

I left the exhibition with one daunting question in mind… What is your favourite Kowalski? The simplicity and contrasts in this piece below makes it a huge contender.

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Between Sand and Water

Photography Exhibition/Installation by Ofoe Amegavie.

September, 2019. Ada, Ghana.

Ada, a serene town on the southeastern coast (Dangme East District) of Ghana, along where the Volta River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is popular for its palm-lined beaches and estuary islands. Most Ghanaians in the capital, Accra and tourists prefer Ada as the perfect holiday location. Also along the sightly Ada coast, lie a host of small fishing villages.

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Ada is also my hometown, and despite the fact that my siblings and I try to visit at least once every year, I still feel very much an uncanny disconnect from the land of my ancestors.

Even though I had caught some glimpses of the project before-hand, I was equally excited and curious travelling all the way to go see this exhibition by my old time friend and collaborator Ofoe Amegavie.

Ofoe’s work as a documentary photographer seeks to capture and expose the intricacies in Ghanaian culture and heritage.

Titled “Between Sand and Water”, this one-of-a-kind photo installation boldly sets out to document the unique situation of the inhabitants of two small villages along the Ada coast – the people of Azizanya and Kewuno – who are currently facing an uncertain future.

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On one end, the changing climate situation has resulted in the washing away of parts of the communities into the sea. For years, these areas together with some neighbouring communities, have experienced a gradual erosion of their buildings, history and to an extent their sense of self.

On the other end, some of these locals are facing ejection from their homes due to a looming corporate threat. Trasacco Estates Development Company, a real estate developer based in Ghana, has earmarked the development of a private residence project known as Ada Turtle Bay. The project will include 40 private villas and a Hilton Resort and Spa. According to the company, the project intends to boost tourism and employment in the region. At the same time, quite a number of families will be displaced and discussions of compensation and re-settlement are ongoing.

Ofoe uniquely captures the expressions and the plight of this vulnerable group through his thought-provoking photographs of the locals in their different everyday situations.

These photographs are also cleverly presented using installations comprising flags draped on coconut trees, on canvases that cover fisherfolk sheds and as posters on community walls and even on a broken-down truck in the community.

Launched at the occasion of the Asafotu Fiam festival last August, this photo installation is “ongoing until the wind stops blowing”.

Alongside drawing peoples’ attention to the predicament of the locals, Ofoe aims to encourage healthy community conversations  and resolutions to these kinds of issues.

What stood out for me was the general simplicity of the project and the moods of the photographed.

All in all, I left Ada with a renewed sense of identity vowing to come back more often than I usually do.

More on Ofoe’s project here.

Side Bar:

While exploring the Ada beaches with Ofoe, we came across quite a startling sight.

On the opposite side of the pretty beaches, closer to the estuary, were loads on loads of plastics waste. A shocking and saddening view I must say. Clearly, the beach sand was losing the battle to plastics.

It turns out these plastics are also coming from other parts of the country, and makes a strong case for the call to ban plastics or have an in-depth re-evaluation of policies around this issue. There also needs to be a nation-wide encouragement of beach clean-up exercises as part of the sanitation day activities.

In that light, here’s a humble call for us all to be more conscious of how we handle plastics and how much plastic waste we dispose off in our day to day lives.

What’s between sand and water? The people? The companies? The plastics?

Africa By Design Exhibition 2019

Exhibition: Africa By Design.

August, 2019. Ghana Club, Accra, Ghana.

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AFRICA BY DESIGN is a creative collective that aims to develop ideas and talents within Africa by re-igniting Africans’ sense of pride and empowering innovation and conviction; leveraging on the continent’s rich cultural heritage and relevant contemporary designs.

Africa By Design’s platform hence showcases the very best of African design talent, celebrating their skills and craft. With designers currently hailing from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Ethiopia and Kenya, the collective confidently presents a crop of genius African artists and innovators.

At the Ghana Club, off Accra’s High Street, this year’s exhibition took place over a period of seven days and showcased brilliant works from designers representing eight African countries. The works on display were classified under Environmental Design, Furniture & Product Design and Textile Design. Exhibiting Designers included Michael Tetteh, Na Chainkua Reindorf, Studio Lani, Tekura, Cult Meraki, Hive Earth, ILE-ILA, Studio Koroye, Selassie Tetevie and Kofar Mata Dye Pit.

Africa By Design also seeks to blaze the trail in encouraging meaningful conversations and actions that position design as a sustainable medium of income for designers, and as a tool for social development and change on the continent.

As part of this year’s exhibition, two very insightful panel discussions took place. Panelists for the first set which took place on the 23rd of August included Tosin Oshinowo (ILE-ILA), Latifah Iddriss (Cult Meraki) and Lani Adeoye (Studio Lani).

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I only made it to the second panel discussion which occurred on the 29th of August and included panelists: Funfere Koroye (Studio Koroye), Audrey Forson (Tekura), Selassie Tetevie (RAM Design) and moderated by Odile Tevie of Nubuke Foundation. The stimulating exchanges mostly hovered around understanding the needs of the design industry by policy makers and other players, as well as defining the role of designers in contributing to national development.

Follow this link to see more of Africa By Design’s projects.

“How Do You Spell A Silent Sound?”

Art Exhibition by Joana Choumali.

August, 2019. Gallery 1957, Kempinski Hotel, Accra, Ghana.

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The thought-provoking title of this exhibition “How do you Spell a Silent Sound?”, indeed leaves the mind wondering. What is a silent sound? Can you actually attempt a spelling? Why do you want to spell a silent sound? What’s the point of all this?

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On what turned out to be  quite an eventful night in the Kempinski Hotel, I went into this exhibition on the same night of the opening of Godfried Donkor’s  “Battle Royale: Last Man Standing”. Both gallery spaces in the hotel were bustling with art lovers and myriads of people from Accra’s burgeoning Art scene. Amidst all this, there was a certain calmness present while approaching  the space where Joana’s works were displayed.

A photographer and mixed media artist, each work combined both disciplines and  effortlessly draws you into a whole different world.  She expertly portrays a surreal mix of everyday life and a superimposition of dream-like stitches. The resulting images are verily captivating and the viewer can’t help but stare – it’s like a spell has been cast.

Within this spell, she beautifully expresses her emotions about events, speaks the unspoken and connects with the viewer at a deep and visceral level; “overlaying gauzy panels of embroidered chiffon and tulle on collaged cell-phone photographs of figures and cityscapes like dreams overlapping reality, unclear where one begins and the other ends”.

Joana Choumali – recent first African Winner of the 2019 Prix Pictet Photography Prize –  focuses her work on Africa and what she learns about the cultures around her. She was presented with this prestigious Prize for her series “Ca va aller”,  which together with her other series “Alba’hian” and “Translation” formed the entirety of this exhibition.

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I was deeply moved by all the works and had several other questions stuck with me as I wrangled with that already posed by the exhibition title. I still do not know how to spell a silent sound nonetheless I left the exhibition with one lesson – keep on asking questions.

Love Letters

Art Exhibition by Gideon Appah.

August, 2019. Gallery 1957, Accra, Ghana.

I almost missed this solo exhibition by Gideon Appah primarily because I had the showing days mixed up. Luckily for me, I made it to the gallery on the last day. Arriving just before the closing time, my brisk walk to the venue had me secretly hoping that they hadn’t begun packing up and closing shop.

 

This mesmerising body of work takes viewers on a journey through the artist’s Ghanaian childhood; tainted with heavy spiritual undertones.  Gideon deftly presents a unique world filled with colourful brush-strokes on canvases, old family photographs, and he also springs a big surprise.

 

Right in the centre of the gallery space, a large facade of a typical Ghanaian house was installed. This setting was that of a “compound house”, as it’s usually called here. There were displays of an  80’s-style television set and VCR, objects typically found in these homes.

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Speaking during an Art Talk organised by The Studio Accra in Osu, a month after the exhibition, Appah confesses that the facade was created to show a peek into his childhood; growing up in Ghana in the mid-to-late 90’s where compound houses filled with different nuclear families was quite common.

Another striking element that forms a core part of Gideon’s work is his really bold usage of dark hues, which he refers to as ultra marine blue. According to him, the depth of the blues contribute to the spiritual vibe he was going for.

 

Living elements like a growing (and dying) plantain tree formed part of this exhibition, further enhancing the whole experience and essentially bringing the work to life. The themes highlighted by this body of work include nostalgia, spirituality, identity and “african romance” – hence “love letters” – as described by the artist. What’s more, the outré dream-like paintings leave a lot for the imagination of the viewer to run wild.

“Where De Cho Dey?”

Art Exhibition by Bright Ackwerh.

July, 2019. Goethe-Institut, Accra, Ghana.

Bright Ackwerh is a young Ghanaian satirical artist whose provocative works immediately spark  laughter and discussion.

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Bright’s work cleverly juxtaposes politics, pop-culture and humor; discussing sensitive contemporary political issues in a light-hearted manner. A key element that runs through most of his work is the use of food culture to illuminate issues. “Where De Chow Dey?” is Pidgin English for “Where’s The Food?”

At this exhibition, on Bright’s colour-filled canvases were cameo appearances by Nana Akufo-Addo, Muhammadu Buhari, The Late Robert Mugabe, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth II, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, and many others. He uses these powerful political figures to present pertinent issues, mostly the plight of the African at the mercy of local politicians, Western and Eastern powers.

He also makes apt references to religious themes and popular American fantasy drama television series “Game of Thrones”.

Without a doubt, Bright is one of the young Ghanaian artists to look out for. He effortlessly leaves viewers holding their ribs while pondering important issues. His quick-wit shines through, as he positions himself as a true artist: delighting and educating audiences.

Ghana Freedom – 58th International Art Exhibition –  La Biennale di Venezia

Art Exhibition: “Ghana Freedom”, at the 58th Venice Biennale.

May, 2019. Venice, Italy.

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I played witness to Ghana’s first appearance at the World’s Art Olympics; The 58th International Art Exhibition –  La Biennale di Venezia titled “Ghana Freedom” in May 2019 and the adventure was nothing short of amazing. The overarching theme for the Biennale, “May You Live In Interesting Times”, was just perfect as all countries represented contributed art, installations, films, themes, presentations and experiences that mirrored this compelling time in our lives.

Even though a first-timer at the Biennale, the all-star cast of the Ghana Pavilion –  spanning three generations of artists, were able to ruffle some feathers on the global art scene. The artists, namely El Anatsui, Ibrahim Mahama, Felicia Abban, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, John Akomfrah and Selasi Awusi-Sosu presented strong works that spoke to each other and highlighted common threads across postcolonial Ghanaian culture in both its current inhabitants and the diaspora, firmly establishing Ghana’s mastery in the arts.

The exhibition comprised large installations by El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama; portraits by photographer Felicia Abban and painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; and a three-channel HD video installation by John Akomfrah juxtaposing a video-sculpture by Selasi Awusi Sosu. The Ghana Pavilion was highly acclaimed and declared a highlight of the overall Biennale by numerous press publications.

Located in the Arsenale, the Ghana Pavilion, with rusty red walls of imported soil shipped all the way from the Gurunsi community in Northern Ghana was designed by Sir David Adjaye, a british-born Ghanaian architect, and a leader of his generation whereas Okwui Enweazor, master curator, art critic and writer of blessed memory, served as Strategic Advisor.

Grateful to have gotten a chance to play a role as the Communications Fellow, as part of the Cultural Leadership Fellowship at ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge. Nana Oforiatta Ayim, curator of the Ghana Pavilion is the Founder and Director at ANO, a non-profit organisation started in 2002, to uncover and create new cultural narratives of the African continent; connecting and supporting development through culture.

The pavilion’s opening was also patronised by Ghana’s First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo and Tourism Minister Barbara Oteng Gyasi.

During my time in Venice, I also checked out some art galleries, museums and pavilions of other countries for some more inspiration.

I left Venice filled to the brim with art sensations, also proud to be Ghanaian in such an interesting time.

 

Threading Through

Art Talk & Exhibition by Crystal C. Mercer

December, 2018. The StudioAccra, Accra, Ghana.

This was one exhibition I wasn’t going to miss. About a month before this, I had the rare chance to travel on a research trip – together with sixteen other artists and creatives, to Wa in the Upper West Region of Ghana. This was part of a three-month capacity building and experimental workshop titled “Ghana Must Go: Forward”, organised by the Nubuke Foundation. Kofi Setordji, master artist and Founder of Nubuke led us on a journey of self-discovery while exposing us to the predominant yet ebbing weaving culture in Wa, while also engaging us as creative individuals on the possible ways of preserving this dying art. Crystal was one of the artists on this life-changing experience.

Crystal is an all-round Afro-Creative: a textiles artist, actor, activist, poet, author, Founder/Creative Director of Columbus Creative Arts + Activism, and Designer and Lead Merchant of Safi Fabric Market. She fuses arts and activism by using theatre, textiles, and poetry to tell social justice narratives, through merchandising and storytelling, with an emphasis on uplifting voices of colour.

 

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Crystals’s presentation was quite fascinating as she threw more light on how her unique life experiences and her previous research at The Clinton School of Public Service, USA culminated into this expressive body of work. She writes, “Threading Through: Pan African Textiles and the Stories They Tell will be an in-depth, on-going, examination of fibre, technique, and narratives of cloth. These narratives will weave between African roots and the Diaspora extension of those roots in African-Americans.”

The intricate details of the works and bright threads and cloths used instantly drew me in to follow all the patterns presented. My favourite piece, titled “Abira” employed six different materials: silk, felt, wax print, leather, cotton and blended silk. “Abira” displays a collage-style woven image of a young Ghanaian girl, surrounded by flowers and bright colours. Indeed a striking piece, Crystal deftly puts all these materials together, evoking amicability, peacefulness and love.

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I left the Studio Accra, after getting another opportunity to also re-connect and catch-up with the crew from the trip to Wa. Shoutouts to Crystal for this incredible show!