Venice 2019 – Visiting the 58th international Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, it’s about exploring the culture and creative expression of different countries. While at Arsenale and Giardini you can find almost all European pavilions along with prominent exhibitions from the USA, Japan, China, Canada, Brazil and more, African countries are under represented. But something is shifting. This year, Ghana presents its first national pavilion hosting an exhibition rooted both in Ghanaian culture and its diasporas.
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Entitled Ghana Freedom, after the song composed by E.T. Mensah on the eve of the country’s independence in 1957, the exhibition at the Arsenale examines the legacies and trajectories of that freedom by six artists, across three generations.
The pavilion is designed by British Ghanan architect Sir David Adjaye. Plastered with locally-sourced earth, the elliptically-shaped interconnected spaces enveloping the artists’ displays are inspired by the country’s traditional structures.
“Being able to show the diversity and creativity of Ghana on an international scale is an incredible achievement, and one which showcases the talent that we have to offer.” Says Sir David Adjaye who have recently completed the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and is working on the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra, a 5,000-seat auditorium beneath a dramatic concave roof.
Ghana Freedom features large-scale installations by Nigeria-based, Ghana-born – and Golden Lion winner – El Anatsui, who exhibits sculptures made from reused bottle tops. Felicia Abban, Ghana’s first professional female photographer, presents black-and-white studio portraits from the 60s and the ‘70s. On display also a three-channel film projection by John Akomfrah exploring the relativities of loss and restitution and a video-sculpture by Selasi Awusi Sosu.
The creative line up is completed by oil paintings by Turner-prize-nominated painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye who depicted imaginary black people. Ibrahim Mahama brings together different materials, such as smoked fish mesh, wood, cloth and other archival objects to confront the supposed linearity of historiography.
The Ghana pavilion curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim says: “The conversation about nations is broadening in the face of issues of migrations, of us redefining our connections to our diasporas throughout our ‘year of return’; of discussing what it might mean to have our cultural objects returned, and how we thus might redefine ourselves in the world; and of finally moving out of the ‘postcolonial’ moment into one we have yet to envision.”
The first Ghana Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2019 is promoted by the country’s Ministry of Tourism, Art and Culture under the patronage of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
All photos by David Levene – courtesy of Ghana Pavilion.