July 2015 - August 2015

89plus Accra Research Highlights


A snapshot and introduction of institutions and catalytic individuals making the creative community in the West African city of Accra both critical and vibrant.

Our first stop was a visit to Nubuke Foundation to meet with Odile Tevie, the director and co-founder.

Tevie left the financial industry, then set up one of Accra's few operational art spaces.

Along with co-founder and artist Kofi Setordji, Odile explained that initiating Nubuke almost a decade ago was imperative as "there was hardly any sort of art programming in Ghana."

Nubuke Foundation was the local host for the inaugural Accra 89plus workshop, that would see 21 creators come to present their work during the closed session.

Performance artist and educator, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland (b. Accra, Ghana, 1991) introducing herself and her work during the 89plus Accra workshop at Nubuke Foundation's gallery space.

Nubuke Foundation promotes and supports the development of the visual arts and culture of Ghana. It works with other art and cultural institutions to provide a wider network and platform for exchanges and to encourage the development of artistic practice of visual artists, cultural practitioners, drama producers and poets. The extensive grounds—from interior spaces to gardens—provide an ideal setting for art exhibitions and installations. 

The vibrant wall painting at the entrance to Nubuke's compound. The institution's co-founder, artist Kofi Setordji explains how it came to be:

“Bernard Akoi-Jackson paints monochrome, so when he started (it’s his drawing) I influenced him to make it more colourful.”

Learn more: nubukefoundation.org

From Nukube Foundation, we headed to Setordji's own studio and art residency space, Arthaus. A hand welcomes us to his painting and sculpture studio; it's a recurring motif:

“The hand is the greatest tool of man but if you use the two hands to beg, which one will you use to work?”

- Kofi Setordji, artist

“The painting with the gun, it is the story in the news that we hear these days in America. Many Africans believe that America is the dreamland.”

—Kofi Setordji, artist

We were curious to find out what artists of all ages are doing, which led us to meet with one of Ghana's legendary pioneering artists, Ablade Glover. It happened to be the eve of his 81st birthday!

When asked how he came to art, Glover explained, “art wasn’t in the picture when I was growing up. Becoming an artist was unthinkable. If anything, I wanted to be a doctor, or an engineer—something proper.”

- Ablade Glover, artist

Over the course of his career, Glover has made innumerable contributions to local arts and culture,
including his documentation of Adinkra symbols.

‘Sankofa’, means one must go back to their roots in order to progress forward. Glover drew this symbol for Hans Ulrich Obrist's Instagram project protesting against the disappearance of handwriting.

Artists' Alliance Gallery
Ablade Glover founded the Artists' Alliance Gallery in Accra, which in addition to showing his own work also functions as a supporting environment for other artists in Ghana.

For our next meeting, we headed to WEB Dubois center, to meet artists running the Foundation of Contemporary Art. Ato Annan explained the institution's genesis:

“FCA was established to give visibility to artists, and even for artists who are looking for collaborations with other artists would come to the space and find artists, or information.”

- Ato Annan, Projects officer and co-director, FCA - Ghana

During the course of our conversation, we learned why we are unable to meet in their office and studio space—earlier in the year, severe flooding led to a tree falling on their studio, destroying the structure and all of its contents.

“So we’ve lost our only art library in Ghana; it was a bit more tailored. That is why I say it was the most extensive in terms of books.”

—Michael Angel Sowah, Curator, describing the gravity of the loss for the local artistic community.

FCA has since launched a campaign to re-build the library and property.

Learn more: fcaghana.org

Foundation for Contemporary Art - Ghana is a network of artists created in 2004 to offer a platform for the critical presentation, knowledge sharing and promotion of contemporary art in Ghana. The FCA library is one of the few libraries in Ghana dedicated solely to text and 'materials' on Art . FCA provides the resources necessary for the growth of artists creatively and intellectually. This is done through exhibitions, workshops, seminars, artist presentations, residencies, and occasionally publications. It also seeks to push the boundaries of what is regarded as art in Ghana and create new audiences for contemporary art. 

For our last meeting of the day, we headed to meet with Nana Oforiatta-Ayim. The writer, cultural historian and filmmaker shared “I am really interested in the ellipses and amnesias, and the whole idea that our cultural knowledge was not so valid, but is actually so rich and so deep.

Founded by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, ANO is a cultural research centre currently creating new narratives and archives, such as through its large-scale Cultural Encyclopaedia project; by archiving and digitising early Ghanaian photography as part of an organisational collective; and through a film series documenting Ghana’s contemporary cultural practices.

Oforiatta-Ayim has embarked on a very ambitious project, The Cultural Encyclopedia.

Over the coming 30 to 50 years, she will spearhead a pan-African effort to research and document cultural histories of the past, and bring them into the contemporary. She explains:

“There has been so much talk about amnesias of knowledge, especially of our historical knowledge, that I feel like at least at the beginning I want it to be a bit more of an experimental platform.”

Learn more: culturalencyclopaedia.org

We had a bright and early breakfast meeting with one of Accra's leading members of the artistic community, artist Nii Obodai. He is the founder of Nuku Studio, a photography workshop program. He shared these thoughts on the impetus behind his efforts:

"It’s incredibly urgent, I am glad we’re having this discussion, because I don’t think that there is anything more exciting and important than to set-up the schools." —Nii Obodai

“I am working with a small, but dynamic group of photographers; both local and international. Half of them are coming in from a blank page, as photographers and artists. So, it’s nice to be able to help them conceptualise their world or put things into context, so that they can work with a framework and can tell the stories that the want to.”

—Nii Obodai, artist and founder of Nuku Studio

Before heading to visit the graduate show featuring some of the 89plus Accra workshop participants, Hans Ulrich asked Nii Obodai:

“What is your advice to a young artist, a young photographer?”

Nii Obodai’s response:

“Stay the path.
Stay the path.
Go the long way, it’s the best way.
Nothing ever stays the same.
But you got to stay your course.”

the Gown must go to Town Exhibition
Presented at the Museum of Science and Technology, Accra, ‘the Gown must go to Town’ was described as “the first contemporary art exhibition of its scale and kind to take place in Ghana”. Curated by blaxTARLINES KUMASI, a new project space for contemporary art initiated by the Department of Painting and Sculpture at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, it featured artwork by 41 individuals from the 2015 graduating class of BFA students, along with eight teaching assistants and six guest artists (graduates from the same department).

Emmanuel Opoku Manu (b. Kumasi, Ghana, 1990) reflects on his installation:

"You see something that doesn’t happen is happening, ... all those things to get themselves on that tree branch with no roots. So it is a kind of possibility which is working."

“My work mostly deals with the history of the materials that I work with; the kinds of labour conditions that are employed to build these things, and how I combine them with these kinds of architectures.”

—Ibrahim Mahama, artist

The interior view of the windows in the exhibition hall exposed the large-scale installation by Ibrahim Mahama that was shrouding the building.

"..the form in its anonymity was also given some form of familiarity based on certain things that we already know. "

—Gideon Asmah (b. Accra, Ghana, 1991)

"I am using a material that has value, not to talk about using money, but to draw out the issues of imperialism, the state of independence, racism, economic and political blunders…"

—Owusu Yaw (b. Kumasi, Ghana, 1992) describing how he came to use Ghanaian legal tender, the one pesewa coin.

The last stop during the Accra research program included a short drive out of the city, to the mountain top district of Aburi. There we visited the OfKob artist residency, hosted in a private house that was under construction.

OfKob Residency
The annual OfKob Artist Residency was co-founded in 2012 by four artists/lecturers:  Dorothy Akpene Amenuke; Kwabena Afriyie Poku; Medicus Appiah; all from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), and Amenyo Dzikunu Bansah from Bolgatanga Technical University. They felt a need to create a space, for both local and international artists, to come together and work in a serene residency environment without the local Ghanaian artists being required to travel abroad. Since the program’s inception, Kąrî’kachä sei’dou has been its Critic-in-Residence. The fourth edition—OfKob 2015—was held at Osei Agyemang Artspace, Aburi, Eastern Region, Ghana.

“Most of the unrealised works are the very strong political ones. Like working with spaces with very significant history…I am interested in these sets of failures and contradictions embedded within the space, and because the material has all of these different mappings and other things, it has this multiple layers of different constructed spaces, and those spaces. You don’t see them, but then they are present and I think the sublime nature of it has a way of working when you encounter it.”

—Ibrahim Mahama, artist

Kwame, the Ashanti word for Saturday. Ibrahim Mahama's contribution to the Protest against the Disappearance of Handwriting project by Hans Ulrich Obrist on Instagram.

“Since 2008, I came across a lot of heraldry and coats of arms of European cities and European families with Negroes/Black Moors...I am using them now, I have been embroidering them, drawing and painting them over the years.”

—Godfried Donkor, artist

1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10 kuabaa Aburi. Godfried Donkor's contribution to the Protest against the Disappearance of Handwriting project by Hans Ulrich Obrist on Instagram.

89plus, Another Africa
Credits: Story

The 89plus Accra research program was initiated by 89plus co-curators Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist, in collaboration with publishing platform Another Africa, and its founder, Missla Libsekal. They were joined by 89plus art residency participant and South African emerging artist, Bogosi Sekhukhuni.

More info:

This project was made possible with the support of Google Cultural Institute.

With thanks to the following individuals and institutions for their support:

Joe Addo, David Adjaye, Kofi Agorsor, Geoffrey Biekro Akpene, ACCRA [dot] ALT, Dr. Dorothy Amenuke, Adwoa Amoah, Patrick Okanta Ankra, Ato Annan, Mantse Aryeequaye, Nana yaa Asare-Boadu, Serge Attukwei Clottey, Godfried Donkor, Nubuke Foundation, Beatrice Galilee, Artists Alliance Gallery, Foundation for Contemporary Art – Ghana, Ablade Glover, Carsten Höller, Prof "Castro" Kwaku Boafo Kissiedu, Meir Kordovani, Cyril Kpodo, Selom Kudjie, Benjamin LeBrave, Ibrahim Mohamed Mahama, Dr. Sionne Neely, Kafui Nyavor, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, Senam Okudzeto, Giovanna Olmos, Kwabena Afriyie Poku, Francis Nii Obodai Provencal, OfKob Artist Residency, Robin Risken, kąrî’kachä sei’dou, Kofi Setordji, Selasie Awusi Sosu, Michael Sowah, Nuku Studio, Odile Tevie, Eve Therond, Rikki Wemega-Kwawu and more.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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