Adwoa Amoah, artist, curator, and co-director of Foundation for Contemporary Art – Ghana, asked regular visitors of the library to pick their favorite book.
In Accra’s beating heart, within the W.E.B. Dubois Centre for Pan-African Culture, resides a sanctum for knowledge sharing, knowledge production, and new imaginations: the Foundation for Contemporary Art – Ghana’s 1st Circular Library. This is a much-needed physical space in an age when lots of engagements have gone virtual, as we increasingly shift toward screen-mediated spaces. Founded in 2004, the 1st Circular Library nurtures a symphony of possibilities around books – it is an anchor for the art community in Accra, hosting frequent formal and informal gatherings. I think of it as a shapeshifter that can visually metamorphose at any given moment, gliding through changing ideas, forms, happenings, images, and sometimes necessities.
The space serves as a nucleus for an array of activities ranging from research and documentation to art talks and conversations, exhibitions, critical clinics, workshops, lectures, publications, and presentations. It positions itself as a critical resource center for artists, curators, students, researchers, and other art world professionals both nationally and internationally.
The books in the library are particularly strong on art, with texts on curatorial practice, critical theory and philosophy, photography, architecture, and art by contemporary artists from Africa and from diverse cultural backgrounds. Until 2015, when flooding in Accra saw the loss of about 80% of its publications, the library boasted an impressive repository of over 3000 books, magazines, and journals, encompassing the diverse spectrum of contemporary arts and culture. With the support of the art community, including institutions and individuals, the library has been rebuilt – it now has about 2463 books and counting. We continue to seek donations from anyone who is able to support us. The library’s presence fills a crucial gap, nurturing the intellectual growth and artistic development within the region. The 1st Circular Library has a comprehensive collection but also a dedication to addressing the void in critical literature on Ghanaian art.
For this “Inside the Library” piece, I have asked some regulars of the 1st Circular Library to each pick a book and share what it means to them.
Esinam Damalie – artist, curator, and manager of SCCA Tamale
“My current reference at FCA-Ghana is Ibrahim Mahama’s Exchange-Exchanger (1957–2057), edited by Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh and Bernard Akoi-Jackson. Published on the occasion of documenta 14, it serves as a testament to the impactful outcomes of community and collaboration. As I navigate its pages, I delve into the diverse contributions of each individual, no matter how seemingly small, towards supporting a burgeoning artist. It deepens my appreciation for the strength that lies within a community, propelling artists upward in the art world.
“My second go-to book is The Delusion of Care by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. This choice stems from my growing interest in curating, particularly seeking insights from African curators. In 2021, when FCA-Ghana hosted Bonaventure for an art talk, the engaging conversation prompted me to explore the library for a copy of the book.”
Abbey IT-A – artist, curator, writer
“I was elated to find a surviving copy of Susan Sontag’s On Photography here. Blaykyi Kenyah had recommended it to me, certain I would find resonance with Sontag’s views on the subject. Sontag’s notes – charming in the way that they appear deceptively simple and dated – offer critical insights into various ways through which photography augments cognition. Although I remain sceptical about photography, a newfound appreciation certainly accompanies it.”
Nuna Adisenu-Doe – artist, founder of Compound House Gallery
“My favourite book at the library is The Market: Documents on Contemporary Art. It is a thought-provoking exploration of the complex relationship between art and the market. It delves into the economic forces that shape the art world, raising questions about the commercialization of art and its impact on artistic integrity.”
Nikita A.D. Quarcoo – artist
“If I’m not at the library for a research assignment, I like to read books on mental health and art. A recent favorite of mine is Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. The book touches on the insignificance of beauty in art, on accepting our worst as artists, and also on accepting sadness as is and putting that in the work.”
Adwoa Amoah – artist, curator, and co-director of FCA-Ghana
My own pick is the library’s collection of sixteen issues of Revue Noire magazine, spanning 1995 to 1999 – Morocco, Angola, Togo/Ghana, Madagascar, Kinshasa-Zaire, African Cuisine, Nigeria, African Canada, Zimbabwe, Africa Urbis, the Indian Ocean (Mauritius, La Reunion, Comores, Seychelles), Djibouti/Ethiopia/Eritrea, Aids and African Art, Paris-France, and Anthologies 4 (1994/5) and 5 (1995/6).
Jean Loup Pivin and Simon Njami launched Revue Noire in 1991 as a contribution toward reassessing emergent contemporary African art and subverting misconceptions about the continent. As Njami put it, “we wanted from the very beginning to use the best paper, the best layout, full colour, and at a size that would do justice to the artists that we were introducing […]. Therefore, we had to emphasize not only the contents but also the physical look of the magazine.” Similarly, the FCA-Ghana seeks to provide holistic support for contemporary art discourses in Ghana, starting with the 1st Circular Library.
Text by Adwoa Amoah.