One highlight of the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale was the opening of the Ghana pavilion in the morning of May 8th. The room, in the Arsenale area of the Biennale, was packed with curators, critics, collectors, artists and museum directors from all over the world, perhaps a marker of the fact that it was a first for the country, which gained independence from Britain in 1957.
With the title of this year’s international art exhibition referring to “interesting times,” it was refreshing to see some of the most vibrant practitioners in the creative scene of one of Africa’s fastest growing nations present new ideas and a new worldview without conforming to the norms of Western creation. However they felt about the moment, everyone seemed to be rolling on and just doing the work.
In this case, defying expectations meant displaying the power and persistence of big visions while presenting—in media ranging from film to painting to photography to sculpture to installation—the work of El Anatsui (including the pieces shown below), Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Felicia Abban, Selasi Awusi Sosu, Ibrahim Mahama and John Akomfrah in curved galleries that were designed by the architect Sir David Adjaye. Being in that room evoked feelings of pride in Africa’s past, coupled with an acceptance that things are meant to change.
Adjaye is known for crafting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, and also a series of unorthodox art spaces, including (a personal favorite) a chapel-like environment for the Nigerian-British artist Chris Ofili’s 2002 installation called The Upper Room.
At the launch presentation, the curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim paid tribute to the late Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian who had consulted on the project when it was first discussed as a viable option. Adjaye spoke of the team’s “Herculean efforts” and the first lady of Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-Addo spoke with great pride about her country, and how far it had come. She also pointed to the growing numbers of women involved in the Venice Biennale.