By John Owoo
(In Accra – Ghana)
An exhibition of works by two British artists, Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell that explore the complex web of relationships, which connect people and architecture is ongoing at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra.
The artists, who have collaborated since they met in Art School in 1978, also employ coded systems of communication and exchange that has become a means of negotiation in a fast moving technological world.
Titled “The Past is Never Dead”, art pieces on display explored the architecture of Slave Castles and Forts in Ghana through a cool blend of slave boats, chairs, Asafo flags, dungeons, lines, geometric shapes and spider-web like images that remind us of the despicable nature of slavery.
Through a sublime use of design, they capture castles and forts as places of torture and imprisonment while zooming on the fact that these structures have become monumental symbols of evil, malevolence and one of the worst crimes committed against humanity.
Curated by Jonathan Watkins, the artists created a replica of the infamous “gate of no return” through a video installation while an elaborately carved state chair, which was used by the last Dutch governor of the Elmina Castle adorned the centre of the exhibition hall.
The artists equally employed a gigantic Asafo flag on which they painted images of several forts – these include Amsterdam (Abandzi), Good Hope (Senya Bereku), Hollandais (Elmina), Nassau (Moree), Bateinstein (Butre), St. Sebastian (Shama), Orange (Sekondi), Metal Cross (Busua) and St. Anthony (Axim) alongside the Elmina Castle.
The basic architectural design of these forts was in the form of simple shapes – squares and rectangles – and the outer components consisted of towers while the inner parts comprised two or three storey-buildings with or without towers and a courtyard.
Langlands & Bell have shown internationally including Serpentine Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, British Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern and V&A (United Kingdom), Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Haus Der Kunst, Hamburger Bahnhof (Germany), MoMA, Yale Center for British Art (USA), Venice Biennale (Italy), Seoul Biennale (South Korea) and CCA Kitakyushu / TN Probe (Japan).
In 2002, they were commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in London (UK) to visit Afghanistan and research “The Aftermath of September 11 and the War in Afghanistan”. The duo were nominated for the Turner Prize and won a BAFTA for “The House of Osama bin Laden”, a trilogy of artworks they made after their return to London.
Major permanent art works in the public realm by Langlands & Bell include “Moving World” (2008, London Heathrow Terminal 5), “Call & Response” (2012, Porte de Vincennes, Paris) and “Beauty / Immortality” (2016, Piccadilly Circus Underground Station, London).
Ghana (then known as Gold Coast) was the center of the British slave trade whose remnants are still visible today. During the period, American traders did business had trading posts in coastal towns and constructed Castles and Forts in Cape Coast, Elmina which were operated by the British, French, Dutch, Germans, Spanish and Portuguese.
The exhibition ends on Friday July 2, 2021.