By John Owoo
(In Accra – Ghana)
Nana Oforiatta Ayim, curator of Ghana’s pavilion at the ongoing Venice Biennial in Italy last Thursday declared Ghana’s maiden presence at the 124 year old art festival as a resounding success.
In a presentation last Thursday at The Studio in Accra, she said in spite of the challenges, panics, dramas, chaos and disasters behind the scenes, she and her colleagues managed to put together pavilion that fascinated visitors and critics with its curved galleries and artworks that celebrate Ghana’s legacy.
The team, which include acclaimed Ghanaian architect David Adjaye alongside priceless advice from the late Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor, created a pavilion that mesmerized visitors and earned rave reviews from diverse journalists, writers and art critics.
Undeniably, it is an uphill task for African countries to make a strong presence at the Venice Biennial owing largely to economic reasons and the intricacies of the Biennial procedure, which has over the years inhibited participation by various African countries.
Dubbed “Ghana Freedom” after the late Ghanaian Highlife maestro E.T. Mensah’s song, the elliptical pavilion is characterized by coiled galleries splashed with earth imported from Ghana that recall the skills of traditional Ghanaian architects and craftsmen.
Ayim dilated on artists on display at the pavilion describing them as across generations with works that examine the legacies and trajectories of Ghana’s freedom, which they boldly expressed in diverse, distinct and varied ways.
They include Nigeria based master El Anatsui, United Kingdom based John Akomfrah, Selasi Awusi Sosu and Lynette Boakye-Yiadom alongside Ghana based Ibrahim Mahama and veteran photographer Felicia Abban.
The pavilion is decked with large-scale installations by Anatsui / Mahama, a three channel film by Akomfrah, video sculpture by Sosu and representational portraits by Abban / Boakye-Yiadom, which severally and jointly symbolize and question the sprit of freedom.
The curator stated that one would notice a discourse amongst the artworks as they navigate the elliptical spaces of the pavilion while revealing that the soil imported from Ghana added a visceral depth making the feeling in the pavilion different from all others.
Ayim revealed that artworks currently on show will be exhibited at the National Museum in Accra and other locations throughout the country adding that the question of freedom, who we are and how Ghanaians view it will continue to be discussed as part of these exhibitions.
A filmmaker, writer and art historian, Ayim studied Russian Literature and Politics at the Bristol University in the United Kingdom (UK). She has an MA in African Art History and an MPhil in African Languages and Cultures from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, also in the UK.
Currently, the director of ANO, a non-profit organization, which aims at uncovering and creating new cultural narratives of the African continent, Ayim has won a number of awards and has written for publications such as “Frieze”, “Manifests”, “Kaleidoscope” and “African Modern Architecture”.
Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world – a prestige it has maintained till date owing to its ability to anticipate new trends in art and, at the same time, to present works and artists of every period under renewed perspectives.
blaxTARLINES Kumasi, Foundation for Contemporary Art Ghana and The Studio Accra organized the programme.
Venice Pictures – Courtesy of Ghana Pavilion