The contemporary art scene in Ghana is still very… underground. There is one art museum in Accra, where the photo above was taken, but I would not compare it to the MoMa or even to any art gallery in the Western world. This museum, the Artist Alliance, collects such a large amount of art from West African artists that it doesn’t even have enough room in the storage or basement to contain it all. The walls are plastered with paintings from the first floor all the way up to the fourth floor, including the hallways and the spiral staircase walls. When I walked into the Artist Alliance, I was greeted by an assortment of Ghanaian coffins–a fish, shoe, train, bottle of toothpaste, and a leopard–with no description displayed. All of the artwork was covered in a thin layer of dust, and about 1/3 of the paintings were hanging crookedly. The artwork itself was interesting and expertly detailed, but I knew that there was more art in Ghana than just this one museum.
After living here for eight weeks, I have learned that all of the traditional Ghanaian artwork is in the markets. There are baskets full of hand-painted glass beads, hand-carved wooden tribal masks representing different spirits and beliefs, and alleyways stuffed with rolls of batik and kente fabrics. The art world here hasn’t separated itself from the real world yet. Ghanaians are simply engrained with the idea that art is intertwined into everyday life. This is also the reason why the art hasn’t been elevated to represent or provoke underlying messages, and why there is no elitist ‘art scene’. Ghanaians take their daily routines and decorate them. That is where the art is found.
Although it isn’t a specific piece of artwork, my favorite art in Ghana is the batik clothing. Batik fabrics are pieces of cloth that are dyed, pressed with wax for decoration, and re-dyed, like an easter egg. The colors are usually very light, subtle, and in pastel shades. During a typical month in my internship, I’ll get to see the entire process of a batik fabric being dyed and turned into a garment, and then worn by a Ghanaian model for the online editorials and look books. It creates a much more of an intense relationship with my environment for me because I am apart of this entire artistic process, rather than just going to a museum and being inspired by a finished product.
Similar to how van Gogh paints the night sky after he has described it to his sister, I can see how the different batik fabrics are inspired by the Ghanaian environment. Van Gogh explained, “The night is even more richly colored than the day…if only one pays attention to it, one sees that certain stars are citron yellow, while others have a pink glow or green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expiating on this theme, it should be clear that putting little white dots on a blue-black surface is not enough.” (page 17) In Ghana, the only way to find a representation of the environment as detailed as van Gogh’s representation of the night sky is to look at the beads, fabrics, instruments and decorations that are apart of the everyday Ghanaian life.