“of blood, soil and more… SILENCE SPEAKS” is a serialized installation of mechanically produced African masks which juxtapose narratives of dehumanization (slave trade and colonialism), modernity and contemporaneity at the Cape Coast Castle. The Castle, built in 1653, has survived occupation by Swedish, Dutch and British colonialists. One of the narratives the exhibition opens up is a critical event of the 19th century that took place within the walls of the Castle, which laid the foundation for transition of the Gold Coast into a British colony, euphemistically referred to as The Bond of 1844. On 6th March 1844, in the Palaver Hall of the Castle, an agreement was signed between nine Fante Chiefs and Commander Hill, the representative of the British Crown. This agreement essentially ceded juridical powers from the Chiefs to the Crown. “By the Bond,”, J. B Danquah explains, “a free people who were not subjects of the British sovereign, voluntarily placed themselves under a binding agreement to the British Crown”.1 This formal agreement had set the stage for what happened thirty years later with the issuance of the Order in Council of 24th July in 1874 by the Earl of Carnarvon — a proclamation emanating from the sole authority of the Queen. By this proclamation, the Gold Coast had legally become a British colony. One hundred and thirteen years after the Bond was signed, on 6th March, 1957 the Declaration of Independence — which marked “the liberation of the chiefs and the people of the Gold Coast from the legal effect of the Bond of 1844”2 — birthed the nation-state Ghana.
The litany of face masks distributed in various locations within the Castle — entrance of the castle, Door of No Return, male and female dungeons, Palaver Hall, and so on — function, on the one hand, at a representational level alluding to bodies and souls that have lived through this site of trauma and on the other hand as a poetic invocation linking themes of resilience, fortitude and fertility to memories of shared histories across the Atlantic Ocean. To this effect, the artist claims “each mask in [my] installation represents an individual interacting, mediating in a larger social network and simultaneously connecting time, space and geographies; the iconic Cape Coast Castle embodies these eventful social mappings.”
The face masks Edwin Bodjawah [re]produces are made from decommissioned lithographic plates from the Ghanaian print industry and corrugated roofing sheets as well as other objects and materials appropriated from building sites. Borrowing from multi-layered processes embedded in African masking systems and their theatrical role in social life, Bodjawah improvises with techniques of mechanical reproduction, similar to industrial embossment and stamping. This nominalist gesture reclaims the African mask from the white cube gallery system— a colonial apparatus which flattens it into an autonomous object to be contemplated by a disembodied eye — and reinfuses the new forms with collective processes of production and spectatorship.
Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh is an artist based in Kumasi, Ghana.
1. Danquah J.B. “The Historical Significance of the Bond of 1844”. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1957), pp. 3-29. Web. JSTOR. 1 Nov. 2015
“of Blood, Soil & more… SILENCE SPEAKS”, Edwin Bodjawah solo exhibition
Opening: 28th April, 2017
Venue: Cape Coast Castle
Duration: 28th April, 2017 – 26th May, 2017 (MON – SAT, 8:00am – 5:00pm daily)