A new art space in Accra launches and Serge Attukwei Clottey opens his mother’s wardrobe
The contemporary art scene in Ghana is on an all-time rise. This is due to the support flowing in from art organizations, individual art dealers and collectors, art festivals, and the artists’ desire to create cotemporary and conceptual works that appeal to the local people. Ghana can attest to preeminent artists like El Anatsui, Ablade Glover, and Kofi Setordji, and young artists like Ibrahim Mahama, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Zohra Opoku, and Serge Attukwei Clottey who are part of the leaders of the new school of contemporary art in Africa. There is generally an increase in demand for African art in the global art market. But the situation in Ghana has also led to a proportionate growth in curatorial practices within the country. Artists and curators are collaborating well to put up shows and also explore the fundamental narratives that make up the political and cultural histories of Ghana. It is one such artist–curator collaboration that birthed Serge Attukwei Clottey’s exhibition “My Mother’s Wardrobe” at the newly opened Gallery 1957, founded by art collector Marwan Zakhem.
The exhibition, a collaborative project by Serge Attukwei and Curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, began with a street performance by Attukwei’s GoLokal performance collective. The thought-provoking and engaging performance saw the artist and about fifty-seven men and women dressed in clothes from their mothers’ wardrobes arrive at the Kempinski Hotel in an old Bedford truck with a curtain of yellow “Kufuor Gallons” (plastic jerrycans) hanging on it. The models held “Ghana must go” bags containing their mothers’ clothes, which they later wore in the performance.
The “My Mother’s Wardrobe” performance started in the Labadi community and ended up at the high-end hotel. This was intentional, the artist says. “I decided to start the performance at Labadi so the local people could follow us to the hotel and gallery. I wanted to correct the perception that galleries are for a certain class of people. And also to let my people have a feel of how works may look in a gallery.”
Serge Attukwei is well-known for his sculptural art pieces made of disposed yellow “gallons.” This he calls “Afrogallonism.” According to Attukwei, Afrogallonism is basically about highlighting and reflecting about some sociopolitical issues in Africa and finding solutions to them. The use of the yellow gallon containers is a commentary on Ghana’s water scarcity and also the trade relations between Africa and the West, where Africa is seen as a dump site for Western goods.
Together with his GoLokal performance art collective, he has created awareness on issues such as illegal mining by the Chinese in Ghana, migration of goods and people, and the political manipulation of youth. Attukwei formed the group as a way of getting the Labadi community involved in his work. Their performance at Gallery 1957 showcased their versatility in telling local stories and critiquing tradition.
The performance expanded on the theme of the exhibition, which explores the politics of fabrics and how they are intrinsically linked to the history of women as collectors and custodians of clothes.
The exhibition’s underlying narrative came as a result of Serge Attukwei’s residency at the ANO Cultural Research Centre, which is run by writer, filmmaker, and curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim. The center is on a mission to unearth and document some of Ghana’s collective and personal alternative narratives and histories. The cultural historian is on a drive to tell stories that are often overlooked. And the ones embedded in Attukwei’s exhibition are a clear example of how Nana Oforiatta-Ayim aims to give relevance to every little detail of Ghana’s cultural histories and practices.
Attukwei’s exhibition encompasses a sequence of works based on events that happened after the death of his mother. Customs barred him from owning anything from her wardrobe, and that made him feel a disconnect between him and his mother. A feeling based on the fact that he had been denied material memory of his dead mother. Through this body of work, the artist interrogates customs laws that infringe on people’s rights.
Another series of works curated by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim also highlights how every last weft, line, or mark on fabric from Ghana and parts of West Africa is a “potent carrier of memory and communication.” It also reflects in Attukwei’s works, as he interlaces his sculptures with symbols and landmarks that remind him of his early childhood and “take on subtle semantic and communicative tones.”
Oforiatta-Ayim believes that there is a need to collaborate with young contemporary artists like Attukwei, to showcase works that undeniably expose the development of contemporary art in Ghana to the world. It is one of the reasons why she is collaborating with art organizations like Nubuke, the Foundation for Contemporary Art, and Accra dot Alt for her cultural encyclopedia project.
Nana Osei is writer based in Accra. He is also an active member of the young creative platform Accra dot Alt.