Accra: Portraits of A City Continues

Kudjoe Affutu – Latifah Iddriss – Paa Joe – Mae-Ling Lokko – Nii Obodai – Ataa Oko

Curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim

Over the next year, the ANO Institute of Contemporary Arts will be traveling across Ghana, showcasing the best of contemporary Ghanaian contemporary culture. Using its exhibition space in the heart of the capital, as well as its moving museum and public spaces, all impressions will be uploaded onto ANO’s Cultural Encyclopedia site, providing kaleidoscopes of the country, both past and present. 

Starting with the exhibition, Accra: Portraits of A City, ANO highlights Accra’s most exciting artists, both young and old. How did our capital city come to be what it is today? What elements shape it? Who are and were the people that inhabit it? How did its structures come to be what they are? What are its mythologies, symbols and narratives? What are its possible futures? How do these grow out of what already exists around us?

The Atlantic Ocean, site of movement, migration, trade; opportunity, dreams, possibility; exploitation, theft, destruction;

Photographer Nii Obodai captures the vista of the sea in all its permutations;

Lone figures dotting the seascape, insignificant in relation to the water’s vastness and all-encompassing resonance.

Symbols amongst the Ga, like in many other traditions of the regions that make up Ghana, often have historical meaning and significance.

Tied to individuals, clans, and important events; they are used in different forms of signifying and communication.

In this exhibition, master coffin maker Paa Joe exhibits fantasy coffins that here depict the many animals of the sea


Often used for the burials of fishermen, all-important in the coastal city’s histories, which are also exhibited in museums and galleries across the world for their aesthetic depth.

His former apprentice, Kudjoe Affutu’s work, a parrot palanquin, shows how these symbols are used for the living,

How those being connects the spirits or ancestors with the living

Master coffin maker Ataa Oko’s drawings illustrate this connection more overtly, showing the many spirits
that inhabit Ga cosmology, as well as the rituals used to communicate with them.

As in other Ghanaian cosmologies and philosophies, the lands of the spirits, or of the unseen, are as important as those of the seen.

Water, libation, the lagoons, rivers and seas, are often the great carrier or passage between these realms, housing as they do the spirits of these elements, the ignorance of whose importance can cause us great harm.

It is not just water, but also elements, such as trees that carry this importance; and still, poems and rituals of appeasement are carried out before these are felled. They are often used for their symbolic power by artists, like El Anatsui, using washed-up tree stumps as tributes to the lost souls of the Atlantic passage. We showed this work in our first exhibition 15 years ago.

The palm trees that line the sea in Obodai’s photographs, are the same palm trees whose fruit are used by architect Mae-Ling Lokko to create new structures; discarded coconut husks, used now as walls and soon as buildings, illustrating that what is available, and sometimes seen as dispensable in our environment, is often the very thing we can build on, and with.

This is also the philosophy of young architect Latifah Iddriss, who has spent the last years studying the technology of the kiosks that line the streets of Accra and the country, seeing them as opportunities rather than blocks, and designed a new one that will travel the country, collecting and exhibiting material culture, – photographs, pictures, sculptures, documents, oral histories etc for ANO’s Cultural Encyclopedia.


The kiosk’s structure echoes the methodology of the Encyclopedia with each matrix representing an event or story in the architect’s life; the subjective art of life and the more objective science of structure, of form, merging into one.


A soundscape by the artist Nii Noi Nortey captures sounds of the sea, as well as incantations to the spirits of the water, highlighting its rituals, importance, and power, and the respect of environment inherent in these traditions.

The possibilities of the structures of the city, both internal and external, as explored by various architects, urban planners, historians, and academics in the city, will be brought together in a symposium and publication, allowing us to explore into who we are, where we are at, and what our foundations and future paths in the capital city, Accra, might be.