Visiting Ghana

Rebecca M. Nagy, Director, Harn Museum of Art  

 

Ablade Glover

For people who know anything about Ghanaian culture, the first image that comes to mind may be kente cloth, the brilliantly colored, intricately designed strip-woven cloth that was the attire of rulers in past centuries. Nowadays kente may be worn by anyone who has the means to purchase such expensive fabric. Some people may also be familiar with Ghanaian wood carving, bronze casting, gold jewelry and regalia – art forms going back hundreds of years.

Until fairly recently, only a few contemporary artists from Ghana were widely known outside of their home country, including painters Ablade Glover (pictured left), Atta Kwami and Kwame Akoto, sometimes known as Almighty God after the name of his studio, Almighty God Art Works in Kumasi.

Only in recent years has there been a lot of coverage in art-world media of a vibrant and expanding contemporary art scene in the capital city of Accra and in Kumasi, home to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). The Harn’s Curator of African Art, Susan Cooksey, and I became intrigued by what we were reading about the innovative programs of the art school at KNUST and the exhibitions organized by its faculty and students in Kumasi and Accra. We were excited by accounts of the annual street art festival held in Accra in mid-August, called Chale Wote. We read descriptions of the monthly Talk Parties in Accra where young artists come together to talk about ideas and issues important to them. With a bit of research we learned about several important venues for contemporary art exhibitions and programs, including ANO, the Nubuke Foundation, and the Foundation for Contemporary Art, all in Accra. And so, we decided to go and see all this for ourselves. I was fortunate to receive grant funding for my trip from a Faculty Enhancement Opportunity grant through the Provost’s office at UF.

In August, Susan and I spent two weeks in Ghana, accompanied by University of Florida PhD student in anthropology, Alissa Jordan, who received grants for the trip from the Harn and UF’s Center for African Studies. Alissa had interned with both Susan and me at the Harn, and served as our research assistant for the Ghana project. We were also joined on our explorations by our friend Gilbert Amagatcher, a retired graphic design professor from KNUST.

Dividing our time between Accra and Kumasi we filled our days viewing exhibitions, making studio visits, seeing private collections and meeting with faculty at KNUST and with directors of leading art organizations (pictured below, left). 

 

At KNUST, from left: George Ampratwum, Gilbert Amagatcher, Susan Cooksey, Rebecca Nagy, Edwin Bodjawah, Kwaku Boafo Kissiedu, Alissa Jordan, and Kąrî'kạchä seid’ou

An Installation by Sampson Addeae at the "Cornfields in Accra" exhibition

Jeremiah Quarshie's "Obiribea" 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were blown away by what we saw and learned. Our visit coincided with the last weeks of an expansive exhibition of new work by faculty, students and alumni of the art program at KUNST. Housed in the three-story Museum of Science and Technology in Accra, the exhibition “Cornfields in Accra,” (pictured above, middle) included installations, video, photography, sculpture, painting, performance art and experimental media. We were so impressed with the quality, visual impact, meaning and social significance of the art in “Cornfields” that we made four visits to the show over our two-week stay.

We also made several visits to two commercial galleries, Artists Alliance Gallery and Gallery 1957, where we selected four works of art for the Harn’s permanent collection. One, a painting by KNUST graduate Jeremiah Quarshie, is titled Obiribea (pictured above, right). The almost life-size image is from a series of portraits of women from many walks of life. Obiribea is a surveyor who works in construction, a booming industry in Accra, which is exploding with new skyscrapers, luxury hotels, cultural venues, shopping malls and more.

 

Dancer Elisabeth Efua Sutherland performing at Chale Wote

We made it to the Chale Wote street art festival, (pictured left) where we spent hours wandering the streets along with thousands of local people and visitors to the city. We took in art installations, performance art, dance, and music as well as stilt walkers, acrobats, street food and stalls selling all kinds of stuff.  By the end of the day the crowds were so thick that we could barely make our way back to our car. We were exhausted, but our minds were spinning with everything that we had seen and experienced. We will probably be processing our memories as well as our photos and videos of the two weeks in Ghana from now until our next visit, which we are planning for August 2017—just in time for Chale Wote!