Accra is burgeoning in real estate development. New buildings punctuate its skies in the city’s desperate ambition to ‘modernize’. I have, of late, taken to its streets and documented this phenomenon of sites always undergoing construction. The interesting aspects of this phenomenon is that as some new developments are started and finished other sites are left abandoned for whatever reasons. So the construction site has become a precarious ground which does not always promise a finished outcome. This may have its reasons shrouded in capitalist structures or economic tussles but that is not my focus. I read from what i see in my environment. The construction site aesthetic has become so present in the city that i find it a compelling subject matter to begin to deal with.
Privately, I harbor resentment for this urban regeneration in the city i grew up and still live in. Places i hold fond childhood memories have been torn down and ‘modern’ buildings, malls and highways built in its place. For example, I remember Lapaz (a place in Accra) as a transit point radically altered by the construction of the six-lane, 14-kilometre (8.7 mi) George W. Bush highway. The psychic connection i shared with this place by my everyday travels through it as a child with my family has been severed entirely and it feels empty of any meaning to me as i inhabit it now. I speak neither for a positive nor negative implication of this change or development initiative; I am merely presenting one artist’s selfish (utopian) desire for things to stay the same; for a comfort of being in places.
I think of Driss Ouadahi’s 300 x 200 cm painting Unter uns (Entre nous), 2014. I physically saw this work as it was exhibited this year at the Dak’Art Biennale. It is an abstract composition bereft of human forms. The work collects fragmented images of “neighborhoods” and paints a disturbing resemblance1. Ouadahi’s painting becomes a visual representation of my mentally lonely and deserted migrations through hitherto meaningful places in Accra. My next body of work will take this personal sense of loss and dis-location in various forms using the metal scaffold (industrial ladder) as its primary material — therefore the Ouadahi-Mahama proposal.
Driss Ouadahi’s heterotopian environment reminds me of the scaffold-cladded exteriors of buildings so natural to construction sites. Ibrahim Mahama’s massive scale draperies of repurposed jute sacks on landscapes, buildings and other giant objects brings the daunting presence of an austere material that lends itself to a multitude of functions.
Wildly hypothesising, what would it look like if Ouadahi’s painting materialized into a metropolis defined by metal scaffolding in conversation with Mahama’s jute sacks which can stand on its own in this same feat? How would they work together? How will this look — The metal scaffold as an interior framework for a draping material existing on the outside walls of a building or any landscape?
Interestingly i chanced on a shopping mall which had used this idea for a renovation phase it was undergoing and this presented an enlightening fusion of what these two artists’ methods when stretched could produce. It is interesting what we can learn from our environment if we pay attention to its happenings. The ideas still flit around in my mind with this hypothesis as my beginning point.
- See 11e biennale de l’art africain Contemporaine, DAK’ART 2014 catalogue.