My first exhibition One took place in 2002 for the Liverpool Biennial. On trips home to Ghana, I noticed how art or culture, especially in my hometown of Kyebi, was not seen as something discrete or separate, to be regarded in specially walled off spaces, but as something immersive, and part of life, and dynamic.
I wanted to bring something of this porousness into my first exhibition, not just in its content, but also its form. I researched various architectural spaces in Ghana, and decided to recreate the historical structure of Akan (my ethnic group) architecture, which centred around a courtyard, and where each room had a function, whether it was for recreation or spiritual meditation.
In the middle of the courtyard, there was always what is called a Nyame Dua, a tree that connects you and the household with the Divinity with the past, present, and future. I reconstructed the structures of an Akan courtyard house in a warehouse in Liverpool, and in the middle placed El Anatsui’s wooden sculpture ‘Akua ba’, made up of driftwood and a monument to the children of ‘Akua’ shipped off to slavery, some of whom where forever lost out at sea, was especially poignant in the context of Liverpool’s historical ties to the slavery industry.
In the other rooms, hung paintings by Owusu Ankomah
and video works by Mawuli Afatsiawo,
with specially commissioned furniture by Selassie Tetevie, as well as bottles of palm wine, so that the artwork formed not a backdrop, so much as a context for conversation.
In what was historically, the ‘spirit room’ Panji Anoff of Pigin Music, and Nii Noi Nortey had created a soundtrack, and I had brought music instruments from Ghana, so that people could spend time in what proved to be the most popular space in the exhibition.
Finally, Marigold Akufo-Addo, created a backdrop inspired by the backdrops used by photographers, in Ghana, and across West Africa for their subjects,
and Araba Hackman designed a collection of clothes for women and men, and visitors to the exhibition were able to take polaroids dressed in the clothes, in front of the backdrop.
The idea of the exhibition was to be immersive and not detached, to bring a multi-dimensional experience of Ghana and its culture into a warehouse space in Liverpool. I was very young, and it was my first ever exhibition, but there was already something of the opening up of paradigms, and of bringing in old ways of thinking, or epistemologies, into the new.