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02/08/2021

Cultural Insights To Ghana



When Ghana, a West African nation spanning the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957, culture played a crucial role in the country’s unification. Kwame Nkrumah, the country’s first Prime Minister and President, promoted the notion of pan-African culture, and to this end he supported initiatives that would celebrate Ghanaian art and culture, including the reopening of the Ghana Museum in 1957 and the establishment of the Arts Council of Ghana and the Institute of African Studies. Nkrumah saw the arts as a way to foster a new national identity. Pre-independence Ghana was home to several artist communities, notably the Akwapim Six. Post 1957, a number of Ghanaian artists came onto the scene, including Victor Butler, Larry Otto, Wiz Kuduwor, Ato Delaquis, Kofi Argorsor and Ablade Glover. The latter founded the Artist Alliance during the 1960s, often known as one of the pioneers of West African modern art.

 

After Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966, government support for the arts was no more. Apart from the Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, which marked the country’s first ever participation at the biennale, public funding for arts and culture in Ghana remains practically non-existent. Yet over the last ten years a number of new players have come on the scene garnering international attention for Ghana’s vibrant and growing art scene through commercial art galleries, artist-led space, and artist residencies. These include the Nubuke Foundation, established in 2006 by Ghanaian artist Kofi Setordji to promote and support emerging Ghanaian artists and located in the East Legon district of Accra; Gallery 1957, one of the first commercial art galleries in the city founded by Marwan Zakhem, British-Lebanese-born art collector and managing director of Zakhem, his family’s business; and ADA, a new contemporary art gallery in Accra founded by Ghanaian-Nigerian art consultant Adora Mba that opened in October 2020.

 

Ghana’s profile as a hub for art and culture has also been boosted by the success of several of its artists, namely Ibrahim Mahama, El Anatsui (Nigerian based), Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (born in London and of Ghanaian heritage) and most recently, Amoako Boafo, the latter whose work soared in value during 2020 achieving $880,971 at a Phillips auction in February 2020—13 times its pre-estimate. Their success has encouraged a new generation of Ghanaian artists as well as younger art dealers and entrepreneurs eager to not only reap the commercial rewards from the buying and selling of art, but also give back to their country by growing the local art scene. This is also being done via a host of artist-led centres that serve as artists’ studios, exhibition and performance spaces, artist residencies and places for community development and education. In Tamale, a city in the northern part of Ghana, Ibrahim Mahama now has three project-led spaces dedicated to exhibitions, art creation and educational outreach. These include the Savannah Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA), in the city of Tamale in northern Ghana in September 2019, followed by two additional spaces, Red Clay in September 2020 and most recently, Nkrumah Volini that opened in April 2021. In Accra performance artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland founded Terra Alta, an artist-led space for performances and art exhibitions; and in Kumasi, a city in Ghana’s Ashanti region, CrazinisT artisT has set up the PerfocraZe International Artist Residency programme for interdisciplinary artists from around the world. Also in Accra is the Noldor Artist Residency, established in 2020 by Joseph Awuah-Darko.

 

While Ghana holds much promise as one of Africa’s most exciting new hubs for art and culture, and one that is attracting a wealth of international collectors, dealers and also artists—African American painter Kehinde Wiley has announced that he will open up a Black Rock Residency in Ghana—what is still missing is a solid base of collectors as well as places for art education. The revered Ghanatta College of Arts and Designs, where most Ghanaian artists received training, closed in 2014. Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is now the only university in Ghana with an arts programme. In the absence of government support, Ghanaian artists, dealers and collectors are giving impetus to the scene themselves.



This guide was created in collaboration with Rebecca Anne Proctor.



NUBUKE FOUNDATION




Situated in the verdant environs of East Legon, Accra, the Nubuke Foundation has long served as one of the city’s foremost institutions for contemporary art and culture.

It was founded in 2006 by Tutu Agyare, Odile Tevie and Ghanaian artist, Kofi Setordji as a way to support the artistic practice of Ghanaian artists at all stages of their careers as well as serve as a place for the preservation of art, culture, history and heritage, with a particular focus on West Africa, through a year-round programme of talks, exhibitions, film screenings, performances, poetry and spoken word, workshops, seminars and live readings. The foundation is directed by Odile Tevie. “We felt it was important to showcase the arts of Ghana through the lens of Ghanaians,” states Tevie. “At that time most of what was taking place in the art scene here was spurred by foreign institutes—the Goethe Institut, American Embassy and French and Italian embassies—we needed to find what was important to us as there were very few Ghanaian-run institutions. We also recognised how important it was to give Ghanaian artists a platform to show their work.”


In November 2019, the foundation expanded its pre-existing 1970’s architecture with a new concrete structure designed by architects Baerbel Mueller and Juergen Strohmayer. The new space, which seems to hover atop Nubuke’s plush grounds, wraps around the area and faces the foundation’s older one-story building. Situated across two floors, it features an abundance of indoor and outdoor spaces, that cater to the local climate and surrounding landscape. At the core of Nubuke’s mission is to make Ghanaian art, culture, history and heritage accessible to all. Since its founding it has served as a beacon for art from West Africa, both regionally and internationally.



GALLERY 1957



Kwesi Botchway, Dark Purple is Everything Black, exhibition view, Gallery 1957, Accra, June 2020. Courtesy Gallery 1957, photography by Nii Odzenma

Gallery 1957, which was named after Ghana’s year of independence from British colonial rule, was founded in 2016 by Marwan Zakhem, a British-Lebanese born art collector and construction magnate. Zakhem, who has been collecting West African art for over 15 years, wanted to create a focus on West African art on the continent, one that would lure international and regional visitors to Ghana to explore the country’s rich culture and heritage and growing art scene. Since its establishment the gallery has maintained a strong roster of artists, which now includes Serge Attukwei Clottey, Yaw Owusu, Abdoulaye Konaté, Gerald Chukwuma, Cornelius Annor, Godfried Donkor, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, and Kwesi Bothway, among others. In October 2020 it opened a second space in London and will soon open a third space in Accra. The gallery’s programme includes artists’ residencies, talks, cultural weekends, and various initiatives to support the growth of Ghana’s cultural community. 

Annan Affotey & Amoako Boado at GHANATTA STRONG opening night, Gallery 1957, Accra. Courtesy Gallery 1957, photography by Nii Odzenma
Abdoulaye Konate, exhibition view, Gallery 1957, Accra, November 2020. Courtesy Gallery 1957, photography by Nii Odzenma
Patrick Eugene, Collective Reflections, installation view, Gallery 1957, Accra, December 2020. Courtesy Gallery 1957, photography by Nii Odzenma
Gustavo Nazareno, Collective Reflections, installationn view, Gallery 1957, Accra, December 2020. Courtesy Gallery 1957, photography by Nii Odzenma

ADA\ CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY



Founded by Ghanaian-Nigerian art consultant and collector Adora Mba, Ada, named after Mba whose family calls her “Ada”, the commercial art gallery opened on October 15, 2020 with a solo show of works by Nigerian artist Collins Obijiaku titled Gindin Mangoro: Under the Mango Tree. The gallery’s 850 square-metre space is located in Accra’s Villagio Vista, a luxury apartment complex known for its yellow Kente-inspired (Ghanaian fabric of interwoven cloth strips) exterior. Mba’s mission is to showcase works by promising emerging artists working across the African continent and in the diaspora and nurture the next generation of African artists and collectors. 

Arushi (2020), Chukwudubem Ukaigwe, I No Be Gentleman (at all o),  ADA\ contemporary art gallery, June-August 2021. Courtesy ADA\ contemporary art gallery
A Family Affair (2020), Eniwaye Oluwaseyi. Courtesy ADA\ contemporary art gallery
Collins Obijiaku, Gindin Mangoro: Under The Mango Tree, installation view, ADA\ contemporary art gallery, October-November 2020. Courtesy ADA\ contemporary art gallery
Hamid Nii Nortey: Cross Hatching Affluence, exhibition view, ADA\ contemporary art gallery, May-June 2021. Courtesy ADA\ contemporary art gallery

RUFAI ZAKARI



Situated in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Fadama in Greater Accra is artist Rufai Zakari’s pop-up studio. Based between Accra and Bawku, he’s set up this temporary space here while his wife gives birth. Born in 1990 and a graduate from the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, Zakari’s work, made of dozens of recycled plastic bottles, wrappers, paint and other found materials, examines consumerism, labour, trade, and the perils of industrialisation in contemporary Ghanaian society. Inside his studio several men actively work to cut the recycled plastic sheets from found bottles in the neighbourhood to then transform them into colourful works of art. The process is meticulous and often close to 1,000 plastic bottles are needed to create one artwork. Zakari and his assistants are busy creating artworks which translates into the recycling of several thousand plastic bottles per week. The result are artworks of African figures in various stances, gestures and moods depicted with much joy and optimism through their lively colours and forms. Zakari is also the founder of the Rujab Eco-Art Foundation in his hometown of Bawku, which encourages locals to create art while at the same time educating them on why recycling is so crucial for the wellbeing of Ghana’s streets. 

NISH MCCREE, ART PATRON AND COLLECTOR



Since she was a young girl growing up in Alabama, art has always fascinated Accra-based collector and art patron Nish McCree. She recalls fondly on memories of exploring her grandmother’s collection of art and other objects—“her treasure trove of beautiful things”—an experience that inspired McCree’s own art collecting with a focus that she began years later while working in Washington DC. In August 2018 she moved to Accra after several years in Tanzania. Since moving to Ghana, McCree has committed to collecting and championing art from Africa as a way to encourage sustainability and cultural and economic growth across the continent. In addition to collecting work by emerging and established artists, particularly from West Africa, she is launching a new digital advisory platform called the Cowrie Culture, dedicated to nurturing the art scene in Africa through advocacy work particularly catered to looking at how growth in the arts and culture sector in Africa can promote social and economic development in the continent. 

NOLDOR ARTIST RESIDENCY



Noldor Artist Residency housed in a former pharmaceutical factory, Labadi district, Accra

Located within the haunting old structure of a former pharmaceutical factory in the Labadi district of Accra, Noldor Artist Residency opened its doors in 2020 as one of Ghana’s premier artist residencies. Founded by Ghanaian Joseph Awuah-Darko, who calls himself “a cultural producer” and is an artist, collector and graduate of Sotheby’s Institute in London, Noldor, and named after the second clan of elves in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the residency provides selected artists with studio space and art supplies during a 5-10 week residency programme or a fellowship programme or a senior fellows programme for mid-career or established artists who wish to practice in the space. Committed to nurturing the creative and artistic development of artists from across Africa, with a focus on Ghana and West Africa, Noldor also stages exhibitions of each artists’ completed body of work after they conclude their residency.


IBRAHIM MAHAMA’S PROJECT SPACES IN TAMALE




Just an hour’s flight away from Accra in Tamale, a city in northern Ghana, are several artist-run project spaces established by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, one of Ghana’s most internationally recognised artists working today. Situated in various locations in Tamale, a visit to all three allows one to view the city’s sprawling urban landscapes with its verdant vistas, colourful mosques and vibrant street markets. The first space, the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA), is a space dedicated to exhibitions, research, a cultural repository and artists’ residency. It offers a diverse, year-round programme dedicated to developing critical discourse concerning Ghanaian and international art. It is affiliated with blaxTARLINES KUMASI, a project space for contemporary art in Kumasi, Ghana. 


Most recently, Mahama opened additional spaces, Red Clay, in September 2020, which serves as places for research, community development, art residencies, and exhibitions, and Nkrumah Voli-Ni, that opened in April 2021 on the site of a former silo and serves an institution for archaeological memories, ecological ideas and forms and critical discourse. Presently, the exhibition A Diagnosis of Time: Unlearn what you have learned runs through all three sites until November 3 and features works by Nastio Mosquito, Zaneli Muholi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Eric Gaymfi, Ibrahim Mahama and Jeanette Ehlers, among others. 

TERRA ALTA



Established in 2017 by artist and performer Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, Terra Alta is an artist-led performing arts space in Accra characterised by an open-air stage and several large containers that serve as places for research, classes, and rehearsals. It offers a year-round programme of performances and events in addition to artists residencies open to artists from across Africa and internationally. Sutherland received her Bachelor’s in Theater from DePauw University in Indiana, USA and her Master’s in Contemporary Performance Making from Brunel University in London. Having had the opportunity to study and work abroad in the US and Europe, Sutherland wanted to bring a premier performing arts space like the ones she had performed in to Ghana. She also wanted to create a space dedicated to research and development rather than driven solely by capital driven creation.

In 2015 she was given land that her grandmother, Efua Sutherland, a prominent Ghanaian playwright, director, poet, and cultural activist, had purchased during the fifties. The land serves as Terra Alta’s present location. She started building by placing several large containers that one finds there now. It’s called Terra Alta, meaning “high ground” in Italian, due to the fact that was a marshland when Sutherland found it. In order to make it suitable for performance work, she had to raise the ground about five feet. “We had to keep raising parts of the ground and also metaphorically we lift people’s spirits with our work here and that is one of my missions for Terra Alta,” said Sutherland. “I want it to be a place that lifts artists up, encourages them, makes them feel free and sustained in their work.”

PLACES TO EAT AND STAY

Recommendations by Rebecca Anne Proctor

STAY: Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City; Labadi Beach Hotel; Zaina Lodge in Tamale 


EAT: Front/Back, a members club in Accra with African and Diaspora food, music and art; Pomona, an Italian restaurant in Accra; The Mix, a new rooftop restaurant in Osu, Accra in The Mix Design Hub, a place that caters to design, cuisine and culture; Santoku, contemporary Japanese food in the upscale Villagio Vista residential complex; Buka restaurant, serving traditional Ghanaian cuisine in Osu, Accra