On a recent short visit to Accra, Ghana, I was once again reminded of the ways in which art there is a simple matter of daily living. The enormity of creativity can be overwhelming, particularly when moving through markets like the Accra Art Centre.
Situated just next to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial and Museum, the center opens in early morning and is teeming with artisans of every kind all day, along with an eager array of tourist visitors. This is the kind of place that is illustrative of what we know as pop-up markets, but on a healthy dose of steroids.
Craft is passed from generation to generation and creative disciplines are expressed and on display from one packed stall to the next. Brief lessons on the history and origins of certain items are meted out free of charge and the spirit of collaboration and unity wafts through the air with each offer to help one find what they desire at another location; almost always that of a real or symbolic family member. Brother, sister, and auntie are the monikers that link one to the other like the fine weave of a mud cloth.
Drums, wax cloth, kente, original paintings, jewelry, clothing, and masks are made before your eyes without the authenticity deficit of being imported. The senses are delighted and lineage is enriched by the link to those whose DNA is traced back to the beauty and history of the Akan, Fante, Asante – descendants of the Gold Coast region of West Africa. This richness existed before the arrival of Portuguese, Dutch, and British slavers, and not even the extreme inhumanity of the trade could strip these people of their incredible artistry, which remains resplendent and bright to this day.
As we (in the US) are constantly debating the merits of supporting the arts and arts institutions made stratified by status, which is often upheld by the continuing largess produced by the slave trade, places like the Art Centre in Accra offer a stark contrast to how policy can decimate rather than enrich the ability for creativity to foster our humanity. The Art Centre seems to operate on the tenants of cooperative economics and while it is clear that not every vendor is thriving, it is also apparent that each is linked to the survival of the other.
Take in this brief, real-time glimpse of an artist at work finishing a beautiful hand-carved mask being readied for sale at the Accra Art Centre.