Founded in 2011 by Dr. Neely and Mantse Aryeequaye, the Chale Wote Street Arts festival was quick to establish itself as the premier alternative festival in Jamestown, Accra. Fast forward four years and it’s still going strong, with an impressive collective of collaborators to boot.
Bianca Ama Manu met with its director, Mantse Aryeequaye who’s also responsible for the alternative culture network Accra [dot] Alt to find out how it all started.
Bianca Ama Manu: Introduce yourself.
I’m a film-maker and art curator.
How was Chale Wote Arts Festival created?
It started from a conversation. I started curating art about six years ago, particularly for Chale Wote, and through Chale Wote. Every last Friday of the month, our cultural network, Accra [dot] Alt, would host talk parties.
In April 2011, I proposed a street art festival at a talk party. There was a lot of enthusiasm and admittedly, resistance. The resistance was many about the location (Jamestown, Accra) because for most people they’d never really been to Jamestown.
Fast-forward to July 2011, and we were putting on the first Chale Wote Street festival with about 1,000 people who came through.
Why Jamestown? Jamestown is the oldest part of Accra and it has all of Accra’s history: colonial and pre-colonial. The pre-colonial history is really glorious and super triumphant. To think that these people migrated over a one thousand year period from present-day Israel through Egypt, through Sudan to Mali to eastern Nigeria and then to this place. There’s so much that they brought with them and there’s so much that’s also taken for granted.
Cultures are built on conformism. The Different always suffer. Some suffer alone until they die and a new generation rises from their ashes and deifies them. The lucky ones find acceptance and even a following in their lifetime. One truth about the truly different is, they never set out to be different. They only set out to be themselves. Be yourself. Be different. Photo and Words by Nana Kofi Acquah (www.nkaphoto.com) @africashowboy (Copyright: 2015). @alueducation #LeadTheChange; #AfricaRising; #InspireAfrica, #ALU #chalewote2015 #chalewote @steloolive #DJ #Ghana #HouseMusic #Africa #Renaissance #OnAssignment #BBC #bbcafrica A photo posted by Nana Kofi Acquah (@africashowboy) on
To actually start up something as major as a street art festival, it needed a combustible environment and Jamestown lends itself to that with the history of the people alone. It made total sense to set up here.
How important is the core team of 10 to planning the festival?
The core team is a foundation of contempary artists. We started up on the premise that we have no money but we believed it would be transformative not only to Jamestown but to the city of Accra so that was the foundation we started on.
If you were to sum up Chale Wote Arts festival in three words, what would they be and why?
Aey! That’s a lot! It’s Ghanaian, creative and it’s a current.
ARTS MEETS CREATIVITY Scenes from the 2015 Chale Wote Street Art Festival. @afrodistrictpa @art_diction FREDDYTALKS101 GHANA 2015. #Afrobugee #africanelectronics #Jamestown #AccradotAlt #chalewote #artsmeetcreativity #artsmeetscreativity #freddytalks101 #wepreachart #afrodistrict #ghana #creativeminds #Africa #arts
In five years we’ve managed to convince people that they can be artists and that art can provide a sustainable means of existence for them. Subversive because it’s impacted the way young Ghanaians see and identify themselves. It disrupted something they were holding onto before. Art is the most potent way of changing how a community sees itself.
What is the importance of social media to create a platform for African art?
Social media is free but then it’s really not free. I think I’ve found a way to hack Facebook in a manner that spreads my posts to thousands of thousands of people outside by network. It wasn’t anything crazy or me writing codes. It was just uploading interesting photos of either artists or art on Facebook that people liked. It just went viral.
Tell us about the art scene in Ghana?
Initially you’d have to go to some major hotel or some European embassy to see some artwork. It was very elitist and extremely exclusionary. We wanted to break that cycle and Chale Wote was the programme to do that. Chale Wote is like an open-air museum in the streets; people can directly engage with the art. It is public and accessible.
Kwame Ajari, installation artist.
Adjo Kisser, painter and artist. Find her on Twitter @kisseradjo.
Serge Attukwei Clottey, artist. Find him online.
Nana Oforiatta Ayim, writer, filmmaker and cultural historian.