A year of ar­rivals and re­turns

The Africa Report - - ART & LIFE - BIL­LIE ADWOA MCTERNAN in Ac­cra

A star-stud­ded af­fair marked Ghana’s maiden foray into the world’s largest art bi­en­nale in May. The national pavil­ion at the Venice Bi­en­nale, cu­rated by Nana Ofo­ri­atta Ayim and de­signed by David Ad­jaye, was com­mis­sioned by the tourism, arts and cul­ture min­istry and boasts some of the coun­try’s top artists from both Ghana and the di­as­pora, in­clud­ing Lynette Yi­adom-boakye, El Anat­sui, Ibrahim Ma­hama, John Akom­frah, Feli­cia Ab­ban and Se­lasi Awusi Sosu. The pavil­ion is named af­ter the song ‘Ghana Free­dom’ writ­ten by E.T. Men­sah ahead of Ghana’s in­de­pen­dence in 1957. The works that form part of the cross-gen­er­a­tional ex­hi­bi­tion in­clude sig­na­ture large-scale in­stal­la­tions by Anat­sui and Ma­hama, video work from Akom­frah and Awusi Sosu, Yi­adom-boakye’s dream-like paint­ings and Ab­ban’s stu­dio por­traits.

Though Ghana did not re­ceive the Golden Lion award for best national pavil­ion – which went to Lithua­nia – it has been lauded by crit­ics and vis­i­tors as one of the top pav­il­ions to look out for. Ob­servers noted the par­tic­u­lar de­tail that went into its con­struc­tion – even the sand was im­ported from Ghana.

Ded­i­cated to the late Ok­wui En­we­zor, the Nige­rian curator who brought African art to the fore­front of the 56th edi­tion of the Venice Bi­en­nale in 2015, the Ghana pavil­ion will head to Ac­cra in Novem­ber when the bi­en­nale closes. It will ar­rive just in time for the clos­ing events of the gov­ern­ment’s ‘Year of Re­turn’ cel­e­bra­tions and com­mem­o­ra­tive ac­tiv­i­ties. This year marks 400 years since the first Africans are said to have ar­rived in the US, in Vir­ginia. The Ghana­ian gov­ern­ment is build­ing on its cul­tural cap­i­tal in a move to at­tract in­vest­ment in busi­ness and tourism. A challenge will be to en­sure that a cul­ture of art fund­ing ex­tends be­yond this year’s ac­tiv­i­ties and party-led projects.

In 2017 Pres­i­dent Nana Akufo-addo com­mis­sioned a mu­seum and cathe­dral to be de­signed by Ad­jaye. Now, artists, ar­chi­tects and cul­tural prac­ti­tion­ers are watch­ing closely in the hopes that cul­tural in­fra­struc­ture, be­yond hard in­fra­struc­ture, is de­vel­oped and sus­tained.

Paint­ings by Lynette Yi­adomBoakye at the Ghana pavil­ion

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