Wary of the skewed power dynamics and the growing commodification of art, I have sat on juries of foreign cultural institutions and governments ‘supporting’ African cultural production, and discovered that as well as political interest, there is the genuine interest in discovering more about what as yet is unknown. I had taken on the Creative Direction of a gallery in Ghana to help build its narratives, content and connections, and found that despite the benefit of sustainability and support, institutions led primarily by the market, will appropriate our resources, talent, knowledge and value in the name of altruism, if we do not understand how to protect and make use of our own.
If we are going to move forward with integrity and create alternative systems of growth, we need to own our own economic power and resources, and have a clear vision of the kind of structures we need and want.
Owusu Ankomah, one of Ghana’s most established artists, uses Adinkra (an ideographic Akan writing system from Ghana), Chinese ideograms, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and other signs, to create a universal symbolic landscape, in which barely visible figures merge into a greater metaphysical whole. At Art X Lagos, three of Nigeria’s greatest cultural icons came by to see his work and share their presence – Sokari Douglas Camp, whose immense sculptures draw largely on her Kalibari heritage, expanding passed down gender limitations by drawing on traditions of masquerade and sculpting in steel; the great Nike Davies, not only an incredible artist, but also an advocate and educator, through the museums, arts training institutions, and textile centres she has established across Nigeria; and Taiye Idahor, following slowly and surely in their footsteps with her drawings that explore female subjectivities
Ghanaian art histories, documented in writing so far, are still heavily unbalanced in terms of female narratives. Marigold Akufo-Addo is one of the few known female artists of the ‘modernist’ period, drawing on her travels within West Africa, using colour and form to create a pan-African idiom. Here, a guest to Art X Lagos wears a T-shirt highlighting Funtua’s cotton industry, its recent revival of cotton farming, and its huge potential to drive small-scale farming and growth.
Young architect Latifah Iddriss works at the intersection of architecture and art. Exploring the everyday idiom of architecture and materials in Ghana, she has been collaborating with ANO to create a kiosk-museum, sculptural prints and our first individually made publications.
Bright Ackwerh began by exhibiting his work on social media and on wall murals around the city of Accra. He is of a generation, that like Ibrahim Mahama, Zohra Opoku and Serge Attukwei Clottey, closes the gap between popular or street culture and the rarified world of the arts, creating broad engagement, audiences and sustainability all at once. His works satirise political realities and popular culture with a gentle, cutting and insightful humour. This weekend he made Ghanaian art history by selling an unprecedented number of works to a wholly African patronage and was part of every step of the process. With this process, of transparency, of reach to different audiences, and the strengthening of our own internal structures so that we are not always just the producers of raw materials for the refinement and consumption of others, we might be able to circumvent the flattening and pure commodification or arts that is happening elsewhere