Participating artists: Adjo Apodey Kisser (Ghana), Basil Kincaid (USA), Bernard Akoi-Jackson (Ghana), Chief Moomen (Ghana), Dzyadzorm (Ghana), Kitso Lelliott (Botswana/South Africa), Kelvin Haizel (Ghana), Robert Obeng Nkrumah (Ghana), Serubiri Moses (Uganda)
Curator: Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh
Organizer: Nubuke Foundation
Partner: Ghana Museum and Monuments Board (GMMB)
“The Independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, on 6th March 1957, made this declaration in his midnight pronouncement of Ghana’s independence. This is the moment that begun Ghana’s national history. In his speech Nkrumah revealed his vision for Ghana as the microcosm of a much bigger potential for Africa. Nkrumah was ominously aware of the frailties and implications of being a singularly independent nation in the resistance against imperialism. He perceived Ghana’s independence as inextricably linked to the pursuit of continental liberation.
Voyage of [Re]Discovery – commemorating Ghana’s 58th Independence Day celebration – aligns with Nkrumah’s ethos and explores, beyond the Ghanaian context, what it means to exist as a post-colonial/post-national subject whose understanding of history and perception of identity is mediated through a consistent barrage of [mis]representations in literature and the media. It posits identity as a state in crisis, and history as contestable narratives which ought to be wrested from hegemonic epistemologies.
Situating the exhibition beyond the walls of the Nubuke Foundation gallery implicates Ga Mashie – specifically Ussher town and James town in Accra — as a site with relevant [pre]colonial and post-independence memories to Ghana. The towns, about 500m apart, share compounded narratives of invasion, violence, trade and are now haunted by those histories. The Ussher Fort (formerly known as Fort Crèvecœur) originally built by the Dutch settlers in the then Gold Coast was used for trade in goods and slaves in 1649. British settlers, in a tussle for the site between 1768 and 1860, took over from the Dutch after Accra was ravaged by an earthquake in 1862 and renamed it to Ussher Fort in 1868. The British settlers built the Ussher Fort Prison after World War I in the 1920s. After the Gold Coast transitioned to Ghana, the newly independent government continued the use of the Ussher Fort Prison until 1993. In 2005 it was used as a refugee camp for asylum seekers from the Darfur region in Sudan.
The exhibition is a search for meaning. It interrogates how histories are narrated and represented, thereby shaping our contemporary world and the consciousness therein. Departing from the point that ethnicities have integrated to form nations whose collective history erupted out of a brutally violent struggle to preserve their intrinsic rights, the exhibition establishes cross-cultural conversations and re-members the traumatic events that produced personal as well as political realities, for colonizer and colonized alike, in today’s world.
Bernard Akoi-Jackson’s untitled [Stealth Abstractions with “The Cleansing”] (image above) depicts what seems to be an environment in which captivity and its contradiction are present at the same time. The sprawl of an ocean with canoes resting on its shore is swallowed by a general darkness. Linear elements obstruct and narrow this blissful scenery. In the center of the image they form what the artist describes as a “vague reference to a holy cross, only broken in its middle.” This is the view of the Atlantic Ocean through the “Gate of No Return” at the Elmina Castle located in Ghana’s Central Region. Whoever was captured and stored here was burdened with the knowledge that that blissful view of the ocean, in all of its intrigue and majesty, also presented an ominous inevitability as a passage on which they would travel, against their will, to never again see their homeland.
Frank Ocean, singing about triumph, resilience and fortitude in relation to The Middle Passage(1), lyricizes it thus:
Because this water drowned my family
This water mixed my blood
This water tells my story
This water knows it all
He animates the ocean as a living entity which participated in the massacre of the subject’s relatives; the creolization of their language and being; and by ‘knowing’, it [the ocean] possesses memory and enunciates the stories or events in history to which it has borne witness and is itself complicit in.
These [hi]stories coagulate to charge the exhibition with complex, layered, cris-crossing narratives that connect the forts dotted along the coast of Ghana to wider, more diverse stories beyond the Atlantic Ocean. Enriched by the artists’ individual perspectives and approach to critique the exhibition brings a broader perspective into questions of origin, independence and freedom.
Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh (2015)
Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh is a conceptual artist based in Ghana.
(1) Jay Z featuring Frank Ocean, Oceans, Magna Carta Holy Grail, July 4 2013, Roc-A-Fella, Roc Nation, Universal.
See full exhibition catalog here.