In 2017 Ghana celebrated 60 years of independence by opening an arts hub (ANO). The hub is named after the Akan language word for "old woman" who is “the first human being and origin of all things”. ANO is the first arts institution of its kind in Ghana–a multi-purpose art space in its capital city, Accra, combining two exhibition rooms, a screening and performance area, a library and a bookshop as well as a multidisciplinary residency program. ANO has become a home for Ghana's creatives and artists. It was founded by art historian, writer, curator and film-maker Nana Oforiatta-Ayim in 2002 as a cultural research institute. The concept is best described in the founder’s own words, as "a tentacle: a work of art on its own." Oforiatta-Ayim has been behind the dream that became an art gallery. What used to be an old, dusty Alfa Romeo workshop now functions as a space for African cultural research, exploration and experience.
Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, ANO Arts Hub founder
Before opening formally as a cultural space in 2017, ANO had been functioning as an art movement for years. Oforiatta-Ayim says that the new space comes as Accra’s arts scene is experiencing a renaissance: “The exhibition is going to help us look at who we are in this city, in this country, at this point in time. Our generation is out of the post-colonial phase and we’re now reacting to the colonial. I’m obsessed with the idea of revolution – be it cultural, social or political – and the idea of writers and artists sitting in a room and dreaming up what a new reality might look like. I really feel we’re in that moment.”
External funding is hard to secure and studio rents are expensive, so artists are adopting public spaces as an alternative outlet. Oforiatta-Ayim explains that obtaining funding for UNO required hard work. ‘It’s been hard, but it comes out of a necessity. It comes out of the fact that I wanted to be in control of my own narrative, both as a woman and as an African." Art practitioners in Ghana are overjoyed about the new addition to the few accessible traditional cultural spaces where they can "shed light on their processes and products". Individuals and organizations looking to connect with creative forces building beyond the margins of art constructs currently in Ghana view ANO as a viable content hub.
Oforiatta-Ayim explained that as a writer and lover of the arts, who spent time growing up between Europe and Africa, it was important for her to create context as an artist as she realized that context had always been created on behalf of Ghanaians. The curator and writer enjoys managing the art institution with collaborations she is putting together with other Ghanaian artists; she also has a novel, The God Child, with her dream publisher, Bloomsbury.
For Oforiatta-Ayim exhibitions are a form of storytelling. She looks back at her debut exhibition 15 years ago at Liverpool Biennial and is content with the results so far. Challenges she cites include insufficient sources of funding, difficulty in getting the ‘right people,’ and the highly patriarchal nature of the industry in Ghana which undermines women spearheading such art functions. Oforiatta-Ayim feels that now that the scaffolding and foundation have been established she can move into the creative zone of the artistic process and that although the organization is capable of sustaining itself the fact the new government is signalling some interest in the creative arts is a good sign for the future.
Events curated by ACCRA [dot] ALT [sic] are popular with those interested in the arts. The multi-disciplinary collective began in 2010 as a “response to state neglect and lack of cultural production infrastructure” and has been instrumental in bringing together the city’s artistic talent. ACCRA [dot] ALT [sic] is an independent cultural network that promotes the alternative work of Ghanaian artists and emerging creatives across the globe. Every August its Chale Wote Street Arts Festival draws 10,000 people to Jamestown, a historic Ga fishing village dotted with aging colonial architecture, and is one of the oldest districts of Accra. The theme for the 2016 Chale Wote Festival was Spirit Robot; 200 artists interpreted the theme through performances, graffiti murals and photo exhibitions.
2016 Chale Wote Festival Spirit Robot Procession
Ghanaian artists have been producing substantially and the few exhibition spaces –Nubuke Foundation, Gallery 1957, The Loom, Artists Alliance – and street art festivals could build further with ANO. Since 2012, ANO has collaborated with Serge Attukwei, Zohra Opoku, James Barnor and many other creatives, and is in residency with illustrator Bright Ackwerh. Accra is excited to have such a cultural project and display space, and Oforiatta-Ayim confidently asserts that "ANO is ready to take it nationwide and engage with a wider audience."
At the Nubuke Foundation, performance artists Elizabeth Sutherland and Emilia Pinamang Asiedu collaborate with professionals and passionate amateurs. The pair started the Accra Theatre Workshop in the summer of 2013 as a place to create experimental work. Sutherland reflects on her first visit to Ghana, her parents’ homeland, when she was four-years-old. Her earliest memories of childhood consist of playing by the banana trees outside the family home, chasing goats and chickens, attending huge family parties soundtracked by energetic highlife music and eating jollof rice and fried fish. Sutherland reminisces on how family members "dressed in their Kente finery would playfully mock our broken, British-inflected Fante."
Sutherland and her family continued to visit Ghana until she was in her teens and her last visit to Ghana was in 2002 when she was 15 years-old. Sutherland says that Ghana retains the smells and sounds she remembers from her childhood but Accra has changed. As tourist numbers increase foreign developers have moved in and updated former shabby suburbs "I took a walk through Osu, a lively neighbourhood in downtown Accra and it’s teeming with new shops, sports bars and plush lounges. Lebanese, Italian and Chinese restaurants have been opened to cater to expats and visitors. But to counter this, the art crowd is carving out an alternative scene."
Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, DJ Steloo and Yaw P at the 2015 Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Jamestown, Ghana
David Woode, who visited Ghana for his 2017 article Artful Accra: Ghana’s 60th marked by the birth of an ambitious gallery (The Guardian), points out that in the early 1960's the post-independence arts scene thrived under prime minister Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s government and budding architects and artists were given grants to train and support their output. Artists such as El Anatsui, Kofi Setordji and photographers James Barnor and Felicia Abban (Ghana’s first female professional photographer) helped lay the groundwork for the country’s fertile contemporary arts scene. However, by 1966, up-and-coming artists were struggling. A weak currency and fall in the price of cocoa, the chief agricultural export in Ghana, led to Nkrumah being ousted. This move triggered a cycle of military coups and economic unrest. Ghana has since stabilized and a generation of young artists are now publicizing their work Instagram, Etsy and SoundCloud.
Writer Moshood Balogun and rapper Khalfani at an ACCRA [dot] ALT discussion session.
Ghanaian visual artists Zohra Opoku and Afrogallonism creator Serge Attukwei Clottey are crafting new narratives around west African traditions, gender and identity through textiles and photography. Gallery 1957, is located in Accra’s Kempinski Hotel, the Nubuke Foundation is located in East Legon, a leafy neighbourhood just south of the University of Ghana, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts which curates exhibitions and hosts workshops and panel discussion is located on the southern suburb of Cantonments.
Gallery 1957, Accra, Ghana
Near the new ANO space is Elle Lokko, a women’s concept fashion store that stocks African designers. On the roadside people sell peeled oranges, peanuts and smoked plantain chunks wrapped in newspaper. Vendors lean over large pots of piping hot soup and banku (corn and cassava dough) and a stew called palaver sauce (cocoyam leaves fried in palm oil with crushed pumpkin seeds, garlic, onions, tomatoes and pepper). Cars speed by draped in red, white and blue flags of the New Patriotic Party which swept to power in Ghana in 2016.
Accra (Tema), Silversea
The collective’s base at Brazil House in Jamestown has become a home for creatives to network and collaborate. Co-founder Mantse Aryeequaye feels that Accra is on its way to becoming the cultural hub of west Africa. Dozens of artists are creating projects that are affecting the economies of large communities. And as Accra becomes a destination for art collectors, more artists are able to live off their work as they build this new creative economy.”