For Its First Venice Biennale, Ghana’s All-Star Pavilion Will Introduce the Country as a Cultural Powerhouse on the Global Stage

Ghana has assembled a heavy-hitting team, from David Adjaye to El Anatsui to Okwui Enwezor to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

John Akomfrah, Mimesis: Seven Ambiguities of Colonial Disenchantment (2018). © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Ghana is making a splash with an all-star cast of artists and organizers lined up for its debut pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year.

Ghanaian art historian and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta Ayim is curating the pavilion, which will be in the Artiglierie of the Arsenale, while architect David Adjaye is designing it, and curator Okwui Enwezor is its strategic adviser. The exhibition, titled “Ghana Freedom” after the hit 1957 song by E.T. Mensah that was released on the eve of the country’s independence from Britain, will feature a multi-generational crop of six artists of Ghanaian descent: Felicia Abban, John Akomfrah, El Anatsui, Ibrahim Mahama, Selasi Awusi Sosu, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

It’s a heavy-hitting lineup befitting of what curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim calls a moment of particular importance to Africa as a continent. “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,” she says in a statement.

Ibrahim Mahama Non Orientable Paradise Lost 1667. Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 2017. Photo © Ibrahim Mahama. Courtesy of White Cube.

Adjaye’s design for the pavilion will take the form of elliptically shaped, interconnected spaces that will be plastered with locally sourced earth from classical structures in Ghana. There will be large installations by El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama; portraiture by Ghana’s first professional female photographer, Felicia Abban, and by painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; and John Akomfrah will present a three-channel film projection, while the more emerging artist of the group, Selasi Awusi Sosu, will show a video sculpture.

The British-Ghanaian architect Adjaye, who has offices in London and Ghana’s capital city Accra, has worked extensively on proliferating the discourses of contemporary African architecture. His design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, is inspired by the tiered design of an African Yoruban crown. Recently, Adjaye unveiled plans for the new interdenominational National Cathedral of Ghana, where he is collaborating with El Anatsui, British-Ghanaian painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, as well as Chris Ofili, on site-specific works for its interior.

The influence of Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor, who was the 56th Venice Biennale‘s artistic director and former director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, can be seen in the selection of some of the artists: Ibrahim Mahama and John Akomfrah both had major installations at Enwezor’s biennial in 2015, titled “All the World’s Futures.” El Anatsui, who also appeared in that show, was the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye appeared in the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale in 2013.

Enwezor is known to be struggling with an illness, but is still pursuing several significant curatorial projects this year. Apart from the Ghana pavilion, he will also be co-curating the largest-ever exhibition with El Anatsui this March at Haus der Kunst.

“This is a historic moment for us in Ghana,” said the nation’s culture minister Catherine Afeku in a statement. “With our maiden entry to the Venice Biennale… I can say, we have arrived.” After it closes in November, the “Ghana Freedom” exhibition will travel to Accra.


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