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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Valuing African Art

Are we forgetting our heritage? The importance of valuing art

valuing african art

The trade and exhibition of African art on the international market is a large scale business on a global scale, while it is undervalued and its importanc e overlooked in many African countries.

found Friday, September 21, 2007 at

Art is not simply visual material; it has historically acted as a powerful outlet for a country's social history, cultural tradition, political views and changing civilisation.

Ghana's history has no differently been unofficially documented through architecture, painting, drawing, woodwork and sculpture and this cultural and social history is being traded internationally.

The world press have recognised the value and interest of documenting Ghanaian culture but it appears to have been disregarded in Ghana. As the country alters visually and socially there is a danger that if art is not publicised and exhibited, the story told through it may be forgotten.

The medium illustrates opinions often controversial or radical and has historically played a vital role in democratic freedom, in the same way as literature, music, theatre and journalism facilitate people’s fight for freedom by acting as often the only outlets for expression.

"Art is political” Lyle Aston Harris, one of the most famous black photographers in the world, maintains. “I was asked by the New York Times to illustrate modernisation in African culture and was expected to produce a stereotype of a black man, bare foot using an I-Pod,” he said. Instead he confronted negative stereotypes in Western media and looked for the depiction of a real person in a real situation.

Similarly, local artist Hawa Nicoi- Olai told The Statesman “Art can behave in serious ways, it can be used to educate those who can not read or write by communicating through images to explain messages to the public”.

African artefacts played a leading role in the development of the world’s art industry, initiating arguably the biggest and most significant artistic movement in the world- Cubism. Reportedly it was a collection of African masks that initiated Pablo Picasso and George Braque to develop the most radical and entirely original movement of art at the time.

This was a phase of world history which heavily impacted society, defined a whole century and facilitated further modern art movements. Africa demands no credit for such an achievement, undermining value of both its artistic heritage and creative present.

Museums and galleries in London, Paris, Rome, and New York among other cities around the world exhibit sculptures and paintings originally from Africa, including Ghana, and place high economic and cultural value on these pieces of work.

One of the problems restricting the integration of art in Ghanaian society is a misconception that appreciating art and critically reviewing art is an elitist activity.

Internationally acclaimed Ghanaian artist, and joint founder of AISS, an NGO encouraging art in social structures, Senam Okudzeto explained, "the general public don’t believe they have a relationship with art, not every Ghanaian can afford to buy a piece of art, but everyone should be able to experience it through the media, it’s not something elitist".

Nigerians are fighting for their art to be exported for fair prices rather than bought cheaply by foreign art collectors and sold for vast amounts on the international market.

The country has recognised the potential value in the art industry and if traded effectively with regulations can result in the growth of an industry renowned for generating financial benefits as well as standing as an outlet for cultural value and documentation of a country’s history by visual means.

If Nigeria can impose regulations on the trade of its local talent, Ghana should likewise recognise its local artists and place the rightful value in their work. Local talents like Ablade Glover, Victor Butler and Kofi Settogee receive very little attention from the communities they strive to serve, whilst Ghanaian artists such as Owusu Ankomah, Senam Okudzeto and Godfried Donkor, who was named as one of the 50 most influential Ghanaians in the UK this year, are highly celebrated internationally for work largely inspired from their home country’s rich culture, visual beauty and social history, but little known in Ghana itself.

Hawa Nicoi- Olai is a young Ghanaian artist originally from Accra, who despite having her work regularly used commercially by publishing houses, corporate businesses and she having been commissioned to produce illustrations for the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Agriculture, considers herself unknown outside the publishing circuit.

Her illustrative drawings and paintings are based around the events of everyday life, from street selling to children playing, a culture which is slowly changing and which Hawa Nicoi - Olai’s work is archiving, but without relevant credit gained.

The artist told The Statesman, "It is very very important to document Ghana’s society through art and the trends we live by everyday. Everything is changing right from what we eat to what we wear and we need to hold our own culture very high, it gives us our identity, it shows we can’t be anybody else".

She attributed the undervaluation of art in Ghana to the lack of available art materials and lack of support for children to pursue careers in the creative industries, "even if art is taught in schools, there is very little encouragement, so they go into other fields rather than art which may be something they are not as good at- then they have killed their talent", she said.

Another artist, 'Almighty God', a self-taught painter from Kumasi, with two upcoming exhibitions in the US in October and artwork bought by a delegation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, last year, is the most collected Ghanaian artist abroad but his work is largely unknown in Ghana.

His work confronts social issues, often shocking and controversial, to bring uncomfortable topics out in the open. The artist explained several pieces which make powerful statements. "this one illustrates a woman having an abortion while people passing by say they can stop the abortion, and another painting portrays a person holding an iron bar to destroy a different person claiming to take his soul", he told The Statesman.

Despite addressing different issues, both artists are playing an important role in archiving Ghanaian life, historical context and social issues.

Internationally renowned Ghanaian artists include Kumasi born London based artist Godfried Donkor, joint founder of AISS, whose multimedia visual art incorporates painting, print making, collage, photography and film.

He is best known for his conceptually multilayered works 'Financial Times’, a series that exhibit the subject of the black body as a commodity in Western culture, firstly in the slave trade, then sports, fashion and sex. Mr Donkor uses the financial pages of newspapers to juxtapose images of boxers and figures of African women.

A short performance film ‘James Town Masquerade’ by Godfried Donkor was exhibited in Ghana for the first time at an AISS event but the 2004/2005 film is highly renowned in the US and the UK where it has been widely exhibited.

It depicts African performers in James Town wearing Ghanaian GTP fabric in the style of traditional 18th century English clothing, incorporating the use of masks from Venice and music from a Winneba choir and exploring the historical connection between Ghana and England.

The future for Ghanaian art lies in public recognition of vital archiving through art, citizen support of local artists and the nation taking deserved credit for internationally acclaimed Ghanaian artists so that the rich culture and social history can be appreciated and remembered within Ghana as well as around the world.

Source/Credits: Lauren Taylor


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made in China
Rock art
african rock art threat
Artefacts seized
art of Africa
faking african art
Looting African Art
South-Africa looting
Kenyan art battle
Getty grant
endangered species
art rage
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Daughters of The Dust
African Traditions Bonfire
valuing african art 

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read also : Start ] Art teaching ] Unesco ] De Morgen ] made in China ] Rock art ] 419 ] african rock art threat ] Make-a-fake-fang ] Artefacts seized ] Pandora-Box-on-fakes ] No-Golden-Rules ] tribal-art-value ] art of Africa ] faking african art ] Looting African Art ] South-Africa looting ] Kenyan art battle ] Modernism ] Getty grant ] endangered species ] art rage ] African business ] Ebay Rap ] Daughters of The Dust ] African Traditions Bonfire ] [ valuing african art ]

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