A year of arrivals and returns
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