Note: The article that spawned this rejoinder originally appeared in the Independent, a British online publication. I was content to give the content a pass and chalk it up to White People Whiting. After all, the piece was written right on schedule. Every quarter, we Africans are subjected to a written work that describes us in the least flattering of terms. This time, Victoria Stewart repeated (and printed!) claims that Ghanaians don’t know what rolling pins are.
Well, my e-friend Kuorkor said she was having none of it. She teamed up with a colleague and friend to craft this response; and per her request, I’m sharing it. Feel free to share it on your blog as well. Take back your news, dear brothers and sisters. Take back your news!
By Kofi Amoo-Gottfried
The stories we tell about ourselves are who we are. Storytelling shapes our past, present and future – and in this way, stories are an incredibly powerful medium. With great power comes great responsibility. A responsibility that’s not always respected when non-Africans tell stories about Africa.
This article is a case in point:
There’s so much wrong with this article, it’s hard to know where to start. There are two intertwined notions at the heart of the author’s point of view – the first is that Ghanaians don’t appreciate Art, and the second is that Expats are driving an elevation in art culture, a renaissance in art appreciation, and showing Ghanaians “how its done”. Both notions are deeply flawed at best; and paternalistic, offensive and racist at worst.
Let’s take them in turn, shall we?
Ghanaians don’t appreciate art
I suppose it depends how you define “Art”, but in Ghana, where art is culture, this notion is plain wrong. Art is, and has always been, part of the fabric of Ghanaian life and culture. All you have to do is explore.
Explore the masterpieces created by the Kente weavers; bright and bursting with color – each pattern holding a deeper meaning.
Lose yourself in the beauty, depth, and complexity of Adinkra iconography and mythology – an art form that dates back to 1817 and which was designed to support “the transmission of a complex and nuanced body of practice and belief” in pre-literate times.
Art was, and is, literally language.
Art was, and is, literally culture.
Marvel at the intricacy, infinite styles, cuts, and colors in Ghanaian wax prints – and at the thriving fashion industry and globally renowned fashion designers (Tetteh Plahar, Kwadwo Bediako, Kofi Ansah, Christie Brown etc.) these prints and designs have inspired.
Listen to the original masters who created hi-life music – the art form which turned an obscure Ghanaian band named Osibisa into a global icon. Then listen to the new masters, who remixed that art form and gave us hip-life and Afrobeats – Reggie Rockstone, Obrafuor, Sarkodie, M.anifest and so many more.
Even in death, we have art. Marvelous fantasy coffins, designed to bring the deceased into the afterlife with pomp and circumstance – designed by artisans like Seth Kane Kwei, his grandson Eric Adjetey-Anang, and many others.
Our relationship with art goes beyond mere “appreciation”.
Art defines us.
Expats are driving an Art Renaissance
Oh, hello there, “white savior complex”… I was wondering where you’d gone.
Beyond the obvious problems with someone turning up in your country to tell you what “Art” is, and that you’ve been doing it wrong, let’s give credit where credit is due. Today’s vibrant indigenous art scene is simply the latest manifestation of a proud culture of creativity, and its being driven by people like:
Mantse Aryeequaye and Sionne Neely; who helped create and launch the Chale Wote Street Art Festival. Now in its fifth year, Chale Wote is an alternative platform that brings art, music, dance and performance out into the streets. Chale Wote is a smash hit, attracting over 20,000 attendees this year, and the festival has been extensively covered by local and international media. Google it.
Bibie Brew; who created New Morning Creative Arts Café as a space for artists to interact and collaborate. Over the years, the Café has become the defacto grooming space for young vocal and theatrical artists – ask any legitimate performance artist; and they’ll tell you they’ve participated in an event at the Café.
Attukwei Clottey; whose Afrogallonism art – using recycled oil jerry cans to create pieces and installations that comment on society – creates employment for people in his local community of La. His local performance collective Golokal are also making a name for themselves by working on a number of film projects in Accra.
Nana Kofi Acquah, an internationally published and sought-after photographer, who by beautifully chronicling Ghanaian life and blending it with powerful social commentary has demonstrated how photography can be a career choice, and has inspired a new generation of photographers.
Creo Art, a team of designers and animators, and The Black Narrator, a satirical cartoonist, have huge followings and use the power of social media, illustration and animation to comment on, celebrate, and critique the Ghanaian condition.
These are just a sampling of the new generation of Ghanaian artists continuing a proud tradition – I could go on and on, but why belabor the point? This generation creates in their own mold, on their own terms. Their art is not meant to be inscrutable, but rather a public engagement which involves their communities, and often the participation and support of their peers. This is art for our people – not about a foreign audience or foreign acceptance, but for local utility and local relevance.
Someone once said, “Until lions learn to write, the tale of the hunt will be always glorify the hunter”. Which is how what should have been a perfectly routine story about stylish new Western-style restaurants, spaces and events catering to tourists, expats, and upper-crust Ghanaians turned into a commentary on the state of art in Ghana and what expats are doing to save it.
And oh, by the way, that “grilled fermented corn wrapped up in corn leaves”? It’s actually boiled, and it’s called “kenkey”, not “keku”.
If you’re going to tell our story, tell it right.