Posts Tagged ‘junior art club’
I’m sitting here on my last night before college, reflecting on my time in Ghana. What did I do? What did I accomplish? I feel like I learned and gained so much – what did I give back?
I just sent off a package to everyone in Ada, so I suppose there are the physical things. But did I bestow on any of the kids an excitement for learning? Are any of the teachers going to stop caning, and is that even the right thing to do? Are any of the students going to take to heart my advice to study hard and apply to university, maybe in America, maybe even Haverford? If they wanted to, would they even be able to? Are any of them going to stop throwing their trash on the ground; start recycling their water sachets? Are they going to continue the warm-up I taught them for the play? Is acting going to be a useful skill in their lives? Are any of them going to get past Ada? Will I make a difference?
The time went by so fast. It was filled with eating banku and okra stew, going for runs along the beach, doing washing, heading to market with Euphemia, laughing with Alfred about “my monkey in the US,” walking back from the internet café with Kofi, listening to the radio with Gladys, taking pictures with my students, talking with them about American and Ghanaian culture, watching football matches and African TV, greeting “hihowareyou finethankshowareyou.”
And what about what I did in Accra? Meeting with artists and getting to know the city – it was so great for me, but what was I doing for others, for the organization? I think the most useful thing I did was set up some excellent contacts for the JAC. I hope we make use of them. It will be easy for them to slip away if we don’t keep them up.
I left for Ghana having very little idea of what I would be doing. I made up some things on my CPGC application based on the JAC website and the few emails Kelvin sent me, such as making a documentary, writing a newsletter, and organizing exhibitions. I did not do any of those things. We did not have the materials or resources for those things. But I did end up meeting a whole bunch of people who changed my life. I think, if only in a small way, I changed theirs.
At the CPGC retreat in the spring, they had us write an entry in the journals they’d just provided about how we were feeling about our upcoming internships. At the time, I was just stressed about the Bi-Co News and all the papers I had to write. “Ghana feels a million miles away,” I said. “Maybe in two months I’ll be reading this, and Haverford’s Quaker Meeting House and its wooden benches will feel like the couldn’t be farther.”
I did indeed read over it in Ghana, on my last bumpy tro-tro ride to Ada. I had written in the spring, “It’s weird that now Kelvin is just someone I’ve been exchanging emails with, and in a couple months, he’ll be a real person I’m working with.”
As my eyes skimmed the words on the page, Kelvin was sitting right next to me. And now, I’m reading it here at home, about to leave for school again. Both Ghana and the CPGC retreat feel like a million years ago – or maybe just yesterday.
At the time, my journal was fresh, a shiny new black. Now it sits on the dining room table, wrinkled and falling apart. It has traveled to Ghana and back. Its gray pages are falling out. My tiny scribbles cover the green-lined pages; my students’ drawings claim a few.
It’s strange to me that my eight weeks are represented inside this journal. Where is my trip contained? Inside this little black book? In the photos on my computer and now on Facebook? On this very blog? In the notes on my computer that never made it to the blog? In my head? In the heads of all the friends I made and the people I interacted with? If I had to go and track down what I did, where would it be?
What has come out of my time and work? In the end, was it for them, or for me? That was my main question when I wrote my journal entry at the CPGC retreat: who am I really going to help, and who am I doing this for?
Maybe I thought I was going to Ghana to find answers or solutions. Instead, it has filled me with more questions. My task now, after I ponder, is to keep up my work.
When I was in Accra, my boss Kelvin let me work pretty much on my own schedule. One of my weeks was umm…more focused on hip life culture than on the JAC, you might say.
Hip life, which I mentioned in my last post, is a popular type of music in Ghana that combines traditional African high life and contemporary hip-hop. Artists rap in their local languages over African melodies mixed with hip-hop beats. If you hear a song by a Ghanaian artist on the radio, it’s probably hip life. Haverford prof Jesse Shipley is well known for his documentary Living the Hip Life, which I watched in Ruti Talmor’s African Masculinities class.
I was actually a little disappointed by hip life when I got to Ghana. What I read about it by Jesse and learned in my African Masculinities class was that the artists were forging a space for themselves, reclaiming their voices against the older generation. They generated a new form of expression and had real political influence. They swayed elections and were hired for important ad campaigns. From what I saw of hip life though, it was pretty much like American rap. It focused on money, cars, and girls, just with some Ghanaian words and beats. Don’t get me wrong, I love (love) Ghanaian music. When a car would go by blasting music, people in the street would spontaneously start dancing because the rhythms are so wonderful. It’s just that, most of the music was as ordinary as everything else. I think perhaps earlier hip life lyrics were more political, but as the style got more mainstream, so did the words.
Anyway, Jesse knows a lot of big hip life artists. One of his best friends is Reggie Rockstone, the “Godfather of hip life,” who started it all back in the 90s. Reggie is a legend in Ghana. He’s as famous as it gets. And of course, my friend Saskia who worked with Jesse knew him too, and Reggie thought she was just the greatest. He would text her at all hours of the night, but it was always an adventure to meet up with him. Read on…
I met with the artists for selfish reasons, because I wanted to, because it was amazing to meet these creative people and see their work. Still, I used the opportunity to set up contacts for the JAC and ask the artists if they could help us out on our upcoming projects. Many of them said they would be happy to come work with the kids for a session – to teach them about art, and for the kids to see what it is like to be a professional artist. When we have an auction with the children’s work, it will help to be able to say that, say, Larry Otoo was involved.
It was these artists and institutions that gave me hope about the art world in Ghana. The art I saw was so vibrant and beautiful, so clearly full of talent, that it made me wonder why we don’t have more contemporary Ghanaian and African art in our museums and institutions. We have plenty of old carvings and artifacts, but where are the Larry Otoos and Kofi Setordji’s inside the MOMA or Metropolitan walls? Not to mention the African museum walls?
The artists I met with told me I have to advocate them when I go home, not realizing that just because I am American does not mean I have any real influence. I will do what I can to spread awareness of Ghanaian art in my small world, and maybe it will reach some big ears. I can hope.
I just read Holland Cotter’s review of the African Art Museum of the SMA Fathers in New Jersey, which is one of only three African museums in the country. Cotter is exuberant about the wooden carvings and masks, but rightfully points out that there is more to African art than this, even though it’s what we usually see in museums — there is also metalwork, and guess what, gold-weights too!
I could not help from shaking my head as I read the words. Where are the Ablade Glovers, the Wiz Kudowors? What about all the contemporary art and painting in Africa, where’s that? I plan on writing to the SFA to see what they think of my buddies over in Ghana.
Everyone says the art world in Ghana is down in the dumps. The government doesn’t fund it, schools hardly teach it, and the market for it is practically nonexistent. In some secondary schools, I’ve read, subjects like agriculture, economics, and management can even count as an art credit.
When I first got to Ghana, I was seriously disheartened by the lack of art or innovation in daily life around the city. I come from New York, where there are world-class museums, galleries in every neighborhood, coffee shops with poetry readings, guerilla art on graffitied garage doors, and sculpture in the tiles of subway walls.
In Ghana, you can count all the museums in the country on, well…three hands. The Accra National Museum is frankly pathetic. It has two large rooms and zero contemporary art. You’ll see posters for parties, clubs, and casinos all over the city, but pity the fool looking for the whereabouts of the art scene.
There is plenty of tourist art. Men hawk paintings and wooden carvings on the street. You can find bracelets and beads anywhere. But the vendors are just trying to make a buck, and they give the tourists exactly what they are looking for. Each work is like the next; there is no innovation.
And it’s no wonder. How can people afford to be interested in art when many of them are struggling just to put food on the table? Coming from New York prices, I smiled to myself when people would complain, “Ghana is expensive-o!” But it’s true: compared to wages, living expenses are very high. If your child says he wants to be an artist, you are going to worry how he is going to eat or support himself, let alone a family. There is no Williamsburg, no obvious community of artists to reach out to, and the government sure won’t support your projects.
After my first few days in Accra, I spent a month in a village, where the concerns of the art world left my mind. Then I came back to Accra in July, and I found my initial perceptions most wonderfully shattered.
The government might not do anything for art, but the artists are doing it themselves. There are a number of established artists, all of them friends with each other, most of whom have their main market in the West, who are taking steps to foster the art world and create a space for art in Ghana. They have their own galleries, their own gatherings, their own followings. They support themselves, and some of them support the next generation of aspiring artists too.
I befriended a number of the top artists in Ghana simply by contacting them (email, Facebook, phone) and asking to visit their studios. I found them through George Hughes, a well-known Ghanaian painter and performance artist currently in upstate New York who came to Haverford last semester for the symposium Look Both Ways (organized by my prof Ruti Talmor, who does anthropology work in Ghana). I ended up acting in George’s performance at Haverford last minute, playing a sort of golden nymph in a strange ritual. Anyway, he recommended a few of his artist friends in Ghana to get in touch with, and these people slowly chipped away at my perceptions and worries.
So I met Larry Otoo, Kofi Setordji, Wiz Kudowor, and Ablade Glover, all amazing artists who have found great success despite the lack of support for art in Ghana (though many did, luckily, have the support of their families). Larry is one of the gentlest and kindest Ghanaians I have met and became my dear friend. Kofi runs an incredible art space for the public and teaches the next generation. Wiz makes warm, gorgeous paintings and speaks sharply on the Ghanaian art world. Ablade, well, is the most renowned painter in Ghana and founded the Artists Alliance, which I personally think should be considered the national museum.
Get a taste of my adventures with these artists in the coming posts…