Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Afro-Ghanaian Influences in Ghanaian Paintings

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Afro-Ghanaian Influences in Ghanaian Paintings

Article excerpt

This paper investigates the culturally-inclusive philosophy of teaching modem art in Achimota School established in Accra, Ghana, in 1924, as a co-educational institution by James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey (b. 1875 - d. 1927) one of the first members of staff and Vice-Principal (1924-1927), together with Rev. Alexander Gordon Fraser (b. 1873 - d. 1962), the first principal (1924-1935) and Sir Gordon Guggisberg (b. 1869 - d. 1930), Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Gold Coast (1919-1928). This paper discusses some of the histories and receptions of modem and contemporary Ghanaian and African art by non-Euro-American voices. These including non-African voices are used to critique the origins of Ghanaian easel painting based on the Achimota School philosophy and its legacy in the colonial and immediate independence era to more recent paintings. This is addressed through the works that marked two different historical periods of Ghanaian painting - modem (both colonial and postcolonial from the 1940s-1970s) and contemporary (from the 1970s to the present) - rather than a detailed portrait of individual painters and their works.

Early Ghanaian paintings are difficult to find and evidence of early exhibitions and their critical receptions are poorly documented at galleries and museums with the result that there is a paucity of meaningful engagement with art in the texts by Ghanaian scholars on the subject. The few collections with easel paintings made before the 1970s include those that were at the Centre for National Culture Art Gallery,1 others currently in the storage room at the Artists Alliance Gallery, and photographic reproductions in the catalogue for Pioneers of Contemporary Ghanaian Art, a 2009 exhibition of paintings made largely between the 1940s and 1970s.2

It will be argued that what occurred in the development of modem and contemporary Ghanaian painting is similar to what the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz calls transculturation.3 According to this theory, transculturation occurs when two different cultures come into contact and in the process the colonized learns, borrows, modifies and reinvents from the colonizer. While Gold Coast students in the nineteenth and opening decades of the twentieth century could not control what the colonizers and their teachers transmitted to them through education, they were given the opportunity to study traditional art, and determine its place in the future of modem art in Ghana.

Thus, this paper sets out to demonstrate the importance of art in the local cultures and practise of artistic assimilation prior to colonization, and efforts to encourage art students to also learn from their cultural heritage, and to incorporate these insights into novel Western modes of art making, such as easel paintings. This resulted in the production, between the 1940s and 1970s, of landscapes and portraits largely based on nostalgia for traditional cultural practices. This has developed since the 1970s into an art practice that reflects Ghana's traditions, modernity and postcolonial contemporary culture. It will be argued that out of these complex threads contemporary Ghanaian painters consciously draw upon and adapt traditional values, symbols and concerns as springboards for a new genre of paintings, with some remarkable achievements.

Modern and contemporary African art debates

The late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries marked a period of significant global events in Europe and America, which affected life and cultural practices in Africa. For example, in 1884 fourteen European countries namely Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway and Turkey, plus the United States of America, negotiated the geometric boundaries in the interior of Africa at the Berlin Conference. Afterwards, colonisation of some African countries by some of these European nations marked a new phase in its relationship with the rest of the world. …

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