Art and its role in telling personal, family and collective histories

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother’s Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma

On March 6 2016 as Ghana marked 59 years of independence, Gallery 1957, a new gallery with a curatorial focus on contemporary Ghanaian art by the country’s most significant artists celebrated its inaugural exhibition. With over 400 people in attendance, My Mother’s Wardrobe, a new creative work by Serge Attukwei Clottey captured a diverse and equally enchanted audience.

Founded by Marwan Zakhem, the gallery has evolved from over 15 years of private collecting and offers an ideal location for both local audiences and international visitors to discover new artists, and to gain a deeper understanding of the breadth of their practice through curated exhibitions. With an initial curatorial focus on contemporary Ghanaian art, the gallery will present a programme of exhibitions, installations and performances by the region’s most significant artists under the creative direction of Nana Oforiatta Ayim. The artist, Serge Attukwei Clottey, is the founder of Ghana’s GoLokal performance collective and the creator of Afrogallonism, an artistic concept commenting on consumption within modern Africa through the utilisation of yellow gallon containers.

Based in Accra and working internationally, Clottey’s powerful testimony to his mother in the aftermath of her death explores narratives of personal, family and collective histories. In continuation of the artist’s established use of assemblage, he considers the value of material as a tangible experience of loss. His works examine the powerful agency of everyday objects, with particular focus on the significance of personal clothing.

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957 Photo Credit: Nii Odzenma

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother’s Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957 Photo Credit: Nii Odzenma

I recently interviewed Nana Oforiatta Ayim, founder of ANO, and Creative Director of Gallery 1957 to gain a better understanding of Clottey’s work, Gallery 1957, the creatives industry and intrinsically the role of art in exploring and reconciling Ghana’s past and present.

Tell us about yourself

I write, make films, and work as a cultural historian, which involves uncovering or creating new narratives, particularly of what is now known of Ghana, and the regions that surround it. I live in Accra, Ghana, where I founded and run the cultural organisation ANO, and where I am the Creative Director of a new art space, Gallery 1957.

Tell us about ANO, (what does it stand for) how did it come about and what inspired its inception?

The name ANO is an aberration of the Akan word εno, which means grandmother. In Akan mythology, an old woman or grandmother is the ancestress of humankind. And even though, at traditional occasions, at festivals and funerals, it is often the men that play the role of elders, it is the old woman they go out to spiritually consult. I liked this notion of the origin of beings being female, of this alternative history to the dominant one in our largely Christian country, which is of the first human being a man. ANO is largely about the uncovering and re-writing and -formulating of alternative, more covert histories to challenge dominant, sometimes reductive ones. –

It is also a suffix in the language Esperanto, which I love for its ideal of a common language, one that would transcend national divisions, and that means belonging. In a global narrative, which has for so long been dominated by one side, and in which our cultural offerings, our philosophies and ways of being, were to some extent denigrated, I very much liked this ethos of belonging, of us all sitting at the same table, as equals, with all right to be there, no one sitting higher or lower than the other, most especially in a world that still differentiates on a spectrum from first to so-called third world countries.

The third meaning for it is as a short form of A.N. Other, a pseudonym for the unknown or anonymous. I remember going to museums in Europe when I was younger, and often seeing very sparse plaques alongside sculptures or masks, giving very little context or meaning to why they were there, where they were taken from, who created them, and from within what greater narrative they came. There was a sense that these objects like so much else that came from the continent of Africa were raw material, objects of inspiration for ‘greater’ artists with greater understanding, consciousness and agency. And so ANO is also about retelling histories on their own terms or at least attempting to, and in this way giving them more rounded truths.

Has ANO changed since its inception? If so, which significant changes have happened?

I first started working with the notion of ANO as a mobile platform in 2002 curating exhibitions at the Liverpool Biennial, organising events at the Royal Festival Hall in London, making films etc. The most significant change has been ANO’s settling into a physical space in Accra, and also expanding into more large-scale encompassing projects, like the Cultural Encyclopaedia.

Serge Attukwei Clottey, Love and Connections, 2016, Plastics, wire and oil Paint, 95 x 89 inches, ©the artist, courtesy Gallery 1957, Accra

Serge Attukwei Clottey, Love and Connections, 2016, Plastics, wire and oil Paint, 95 x 89 inches, ©the artist, courtesy Gallery 1957, Accra
How do you choose the artists who receive residency such as in the case of Serge Clottey?

It all happens quite organically. ANO is not a static institution with fixed paradigms and goals. It has been very porous and open, listening to and seeing what works, what synergies there are with other creatives, and then acting upon them. The residency programme emerged from shared interests and the notion that mutual collaboration could be of benefit.

What gap if any do you see in the art and creative works industry in Ghana?

I feel that whatever gaps there are are being addressed by people’s ingenuity. New institutions are springing up, like Gallery 1957 and the Archiafrika Gallery of Design and Architecture. The government is putting some funding into the arts, even if it could do a lot better. Institutions, like the National Theatre are starting to engage with young artists, like Ibrahim Mahama and Serge Attukwei Clottey, and of course artists keep pushing at their own boundaries. I think it is a very good time creatively in Ghana, and I’m excited to see what emerges over the next few years.

What role do you see art playing in creating a platform for reconciling socio-cultural, economic and political discourse beyond ANO?

I think art provides another way of seeing, of thinking, of understanding. I think it highlights things that might be obvious to everyone around, but that are not being addressed, as well as things that might not be obvious at all. I think that the more attention is paid to it, the deeper our engagement with our environment will be, as well as that with our own selves, and that in itself is the strongest foundation for any discourse or development.

You have been quoted as saying the following profound words on reconciling art and loss with regards to Clottey’s work:

“According to custom in many parts of Ghana, a person’s wardrobe is locked up for a year after their death then released to relatives, often leaving the person’s offspring with little or nothing of the material memory of that person. Textiles and materials in Ghana, and other parts of West Africa — each weft, line or mark — are potent carriers of memory, of communication, and the artist weaves into his sculptures subtle traces of loss, remembering, and of rebirth.”

In your view, does Clottey’s artistic work resonate with most Ghanaians?

I am going to do a series of talks at Gallery 1957 around his works for schools and universities and workers, and I’m very excited about the exchanges that will happen as a result of that. I think Serge’s work is deeply embedded in Ga cosmogony and offers an aesthetic and provocative way of looking at our past and recreating our future, and it is always a spectacle, which in itself excites people’s attention. The challenge now is to get the work and the discourses around it seen by more people than those naturally drawn to art, and I hope to do that with a series of films around Serge and other artists, their work and the deeper themes.

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother’s Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma
My Mother’s Wardrobe is a result of Clottey’s residency with ANO, whose remit is to uncover hidden and alternative, personal and collective histories, which make up what is now known as Ghana. Can you tell us about other projects you are working on and what to expect in 2016?

There will be a lot of projects in 2016! Another collaboration with Serge on the Korle Lagoon around the themes of nature and its invasion and the mythologies around this within Ga philosophy, as well as a book and film on his work. A collaboration with Zohra Opoku for Gallery 1957, as well as a book and film on her produced by ANO. And an exhibition with Serge, Zohra, and Ibrahim Mahama at the end of the year at LACMA in Los Angeles, for ANO’s Cultural Encyclopaedia project. There will also be a preliminary tour of the country with what I call Living History Hubs, mobile museums, to gather and exhibit material cultural and upload it onto the Cultural Encyclopaedia site. And finally, an exhibition at Gallery 1957 with young artist and performer, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland which resonates deeply with ANO’s remit, as its subject is the role of the feminine in myth-making.

What advice would you give to upcoming artists in Ghana?

To listen deeply to whatever it is that resonates with them the most and to follow that impulse. To look around and see what inspires and challenges them in their environment, as well as outside of it. And to keep working at it, despite all the obstacles, and even without initial support; to create and express even if it is on their street corners or in their family compounds or in a market place, and to keep delving. I feel like it is consistency and integrity of purpose, as well as clarity of expression that draws support, in whatever form, to itself.

Lastly, why is this exhibition a must see for all?

The exhibition is a must see, because Serge is a very talented artist at the full potency of his creative expression. He is experimenting with form and he is delving into the various layers of his environment and bringing them forth in ways that are unexpected and that enchant and expand. The exhibition is a testament to ingenuity, to diligence, to just what is possible, and because of that I think acts a source of inspiration.

 

This article first appeared in my blog post @ Africa at LSE .

What does a Data Revolution in Africa look like?

(Pic credit: Onthinktanks.org)

The Heads of State and Government at the 23rd AU Summit within the Common Africa Position on the Post 2015 agenda were convinced of the need for structural transformation for inclusive and people centered development in Africa. They tersely came to an agreement on how such a developmental approach requires the creation and enhancement of adequate policy space and productive capacities, notably through infrastructure development; science and technology; transfer and innovation; value addition to primary commodities; youth development and women’s empowerment. They also agreed that this approach requires addressing the challenges posed by climate change; desertification and land degradation; drought, loss of bio diversity; sustainable natural resource management; and the promotion of a responsive and accountable global governance architecture.

Critical to this discussion therefore is: how can data assist in mitigating these challenges and existing gaps whilst offering new insights on how to accelerate development across the continent?

During the two day National Forum on harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development held in Nairobi Kenya between 28th and 29th August 2015, multi stakeholders from government, private sector, academia, nonprofit organizations, local communities and development partnerships convened a midst whetted ambition to begin addressing the informational aspects of development decision making in a coordinated way.

“Where will the locus for disaggregated data be situated with the shift in development trends? Will it be open data sources, national statistics offices or will it be with philanthropy organizations that are increasingly shifting to partnerships with the private sector? ODA is decreasing in countries such as Kenya which have shifted to middle income status. Will it be in conjunction with private sector organizations? How will this revolution look like?” asked a keen participant in the audience.

These are fundamentals questions reeling in everyone’s mind as crucial conversations on the data revolution embark in Africa ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals being acceded to in September 2015 and the convening of the World Data Forum scheduled to be held in 2016.

Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time to the right people; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible. Institutions require bolstering to manage and steer this new shift in development with adequate resources and political will being the key priorities to making this a reality. How will this happen amidst the current challenges facing the continent? Below is an info graphic highlighting some of them.

(Pic Credit: APHRC)

The sparking of  a conversation on harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development marks Kenya’s first step in working towards a global partnership for a data revolution, establishing the country as a leader on the African continent and globally.

Nonetheless, a common challenge facing majority countries in Africa today, Kenya not excluded,  is the lack or inadequacy of fundamental statistics measuring the quality and quantity of taxes and trade, births and deaths, or even growth and poverty.  Add on to this the mis-match in priorities between governments in Africa and the donor community. Governments alike require sub-national data to help guide budgetary and policy decisions while on the other hand external donors often want national level data to make allocation decisions across countries; this priorities have often been misaligned further exacerbating the already existing data gap.

As the deputy president of the Republic of Kenya Hon. William Ruto rightly put it, “the data revolution must not become a struggle between an ancient regime of traditional official statistics and a new big data republique. A worthwhile revolution should develop greater capacity for national statistics offices while fostering integrated and harmonious relations with other data producers. “

As espoused in the Africa Data Consensus, a sustained data revolution is needed to drive social, economic and structural transformation in every African country. Such a revolution will also make it easier to track our countries’ progress towards meeting national and globally agreed sustainable development goals, with a view to leave no one behind. The building blocks for an African data revolution are already in place. National Statistical Offices have long been the backbone of data production and management, producing official statistics and supporting data activities to create accurate and timely data for decision making. However, today’s development challenges and prospects call for a broad data ecosystem that spans the entire value chain driven by national priorities and underpinned by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. This ecosystem must be inclusive of all forms of data – including official and other data – and involve all stakeholders.

*This article by the author was originally posted on www.dataforum.or.ke

A Word On Innovation From The World Economic Forum 2015

The movie ‘The Last Samurai’ comes to mind. The armies of the forefathers were far more equipped strategically to deal with matters of war and this certainly did not rest on the battalion numbers and equipment. One of the lessons from that movie. . .be careful who you think you can govern. Heritage takes precedence over everything.

Turn on CNN and you’ll find the news as it is….sometimes exaggerated; there’s very little good news at the moment. The current state of the world is at a point of strained cadence. Globally and geographically the world may have seemed flat, but economies are overwrought. This is accentuated by the fact that companies and governments alike seek sustainable solutions to “do more with less.” Certain natural resources are no longer plentiful for various reasons, food is simply scarce because most of it is wasted. Populations and urbanization continue to rise due to employment centralization and the snail’s pace of infrastructure development to accelerate economic activities in stagnant areas.This is a resident nuance in Africa.

Today however, the world is looking to emerging markets, particularly Africa. They have their eyes set on us. Let us remember that while CEO’s at the WEF 2015 stated that technology is great for learning in Africa, who of them reported this as part of their annual results linked to profit margins? Technology companies are profit driven and invest in profit driven growth.

Pic credit: afronline.org

In droves they come, setting up shop as multinational companies. Included in their suitcases are an array of experiences and skills that have been tried and tested in developed economies. Soon enough they realize that more challenges and risks exist rather than opportunities – if not managed well.

“Innovation for us is coming from emerging markets… All the great ideas are coming from the outside” – Coca cola CEO

If these investors do not have a ‘pack’ case full of effective methods and behavioral studies that satisfy the needs of local markets that liquesce into local communities, environments and cultures, they will not achieve success.

German engineer Karl Benz invented the first petroleum-powered automobile without knowing that he had not just created an engine with wheels but stirred a revolution of inventions. For generations to come, he set the chain-ring in motion for an industry that revolutionized the way in which society was structured, and it has evolved ever since. Similarly, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee had not just built the world’s first Web site, he became Alexander the Great because of what we now know today as the World Wide Web. As with many inventors they unselfishly and not through ignorance, ignored the impact of that which we enjoy today.

There are four critical elements to note that will guide us when it comes to innovation in Africa going forward.

The first is ethical compass: the world is riding a wave of super waves from economic growth in places such as Africa.

Frankly speaking,we still have a large uneducated population who seek the ability to “consumerise” and not make financial decisions that would impact sustainable livelihoods. This is the continued theme of the Africa Progress Panel; to slow and ultimately halt corruption being channeled through illicit outflows. We have the multinational CEO’s who use these opportunities to take advantage. This is how it plays out. Corruption is pointedly carried out in sovereign countries by their respective officials and it is then that money that is shifted to tax havens by multinationals. This subsequently stunts innovation. How? Through lack of investments in local economies and research for African solutions; Africa is losing out as a continent.

Innovation must have a moral compass. Innovation must initially rectify and advance life in Africa and then serve as an economic export. The CEO of Coca-Cola recognizes this, he reiterates that if it is African then Africa must reap the financial rewards and hold the intellectual property rights.

Secondly, sustainable innovation: according to the WEF 2015 report; Most consumers in emerging markets desire and prefer products which are cost effective and that enhance innovative functionalities. Therefore, finding the optimal balance between innovation and cost is one of the most significant elements of driving sustainable innovation.This is also an essential dynamic to gain customers and achieve sustainable growth in emerging markets.

Nonetheless, there is some level of disagreement here. Innovation functionality must solve a problem from the perspective of the African consumer. No longer based on the notion of limited resources, can we invest only in consumerism? Innovation resources must have a source. If this source is in Africa, what are the sustainable impacts given the lagging stages of development on the continent? We have to think much deeper.

Thirdly, speed to market via infrastructure: at an average growth rate of over 5 percent in most African countries, sustainability is an acute question. If we measure the cost to benefit ratio of a smartphone to the majority of consumers in Africa, cost will top actual productive use and household affordability.

“If we can extend [the internet] to more people, we increase voice… we increase economic opportunity… and we increase equality.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook, USA

If we investigate the number of internet users from the 400 million smartphone users, can we honestly say that there is an impact on improved quality of life? Again, this may be creating room for understanding or misunderstanding the playing field in new markets. Despite an increase in growth, there can be the possible dangerous misconception of linking investment and population poverty to economic mainstream conversion and migration alike.

In the current form, speed of delivery of innovation must meet speed of infrastructure innovation. Plug the annual $40 billion infrastructure funding gap and let’s get the ball rolling.

Fourth, Meet the Local Partner: ideally there should be qualified local partners who can meet the expectations of handling major investments. This is ideal to enable investors to integrate well into local geographies as well as provide the know-how on navigating local markets.

If we go back to the history of the industrial revolution, specifically the depictions of economic progress, we find that there existed many economic models that tested negative.

Thus, the stories being put forward on innovation in Africa are to some extent ignoring the fundamental narratives of the African people, history and status quo.

I have browsed most quotes on innovation from the the internet and from the WEF 2015, a body and gathering that I hold in high regard; I find that there is a deficit in research, particularly on Africa and emerging markets; the research is more steered to making innovation of European and US based technologies available to African consumers.

In a world where the US and Europe are lagging in growth and emerging markets continue to receive the bottom of the shoe coverage irrespective of the fact that their markets have the greatest growth and prospects for investment, one wonders who to listen to.

We need change and the Chair of the WEF ought to take cognizance that African CEO’s who have built billion dollar companies across the continent should be the ones steering thought leadership.Or maybe, just maybe, innovation should start with sufficient and quality media coverage which showcases African’s skills and talent; a people with a history of storytelling well.

Article originally posted on Ventures Africa

Story by Elton

(Edited here)

Addis Ideas

Addis Ideas is a revolutionary mobile application that allows Africans to improve the communities around them. Users can share their development ideas with the world, collaborate with others who share similar interests, and get the attention of potential sponsors — who could turn their project ideas into reality. The ultimate goal of Addis Ideas is to promote information sharing, enhance public participation in African development, and create a collaborative work space for everyday people who would like to see change in their communities… It’s a crowd sourcing solution for African development.

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