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The Ghanaian art scene breaks through

Ghana has seen a revolution in its post-colonial art scene since 1996

Ibrahim Mahama, Non Orientable Nkansa, 2017

“Outside Africa, people think African masks are contemporary art, but in Africa they are not. They’re just masks” said Tutu Agyare, co-founder of Accra’s Nubuke Foundation, at a panel discussion at Gallery 1957 in August 2016.

‘Non-Orientable Nkansa’ from the exhibition Fragments at the White Cube Gallery in London, which was on display up to April this year. Image from

Strong connections between a group of Ghanaian artists, galleries and international art fairs have been pushing for exciting themes of African art without jumping in with generalisations like the one that is stated above.

In fact, Ghana has seen a revolution in its post-colonial art scene since 1996, when students at the College of Art at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) tested their boundaries whilst confronting the department’s ideas on what art is, at a time when the college was already being criticized for being unprepared for the critical issues raised in contemporary art communities.

The students came up with guerrilla-style performances and different art forms that created controversy. This was followed with some silence on the subject of radical ideas, until the appointment of one of the 1996 students, Kąrî’kạchä Seid’ou, as the Head of Faculty in 2003.

He established what he termed ‘Emancipatory Art Teaching’, in which he made each of his students curate his or her own show in a guerrilla-type, end-of-year project. Exhibitions were held in outlandish places such as mini vans, fast food bars, unfinished buildings, physical and virtual social networks and so on. The more recent innovations resulting from this can be seen as a comeback of the revolutionary pioneer MFA class of 1996.

In the mid-2000s, Kąrî’kạchä seid’ou found engaging collaborators among the younger faculty, namely, Kwaku Boafo Kissiedu and George Ampratwum. With this team, he set up a network of artists and art professionals practicing outside Africa.

To transform the radical experimentation into a long-term practice and collective movement, the contemporary Ghanaian art scene needed a stronger infrastructure and that was when blaxTARLINES KUMASI, a new project space for contemporary art, was established. The aim of this space was to open avenues for artistic and critical exploration while probing and deepening modes and bases of knowledge. Students from KNUST are encouraged to experiment with photography and video, digital art and new media, etc. Experiments tested in the city of Kumasi push students to make critical decisions on aspects of material, space, display, and exhibition-making.

Accra’s art scene has been getting a great deal of attention in recent years, thanks to these multimedia artists, including those of international fame such as Ibrahim Mahama, Serge Attukwei Clotte, Yaw Owusu and Bernard Akoi-Jackson. Since 2011, the historic area of Jamestown, Accra, has also been home to the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival (in August) which attracts over 10,000 visitors each year.

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