Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, the country’s capital Accra saw open a new multi-purpose contemporary art space. ANO aims to serve as a hub for the city’s growing art scene. Interview with Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, writer, art historian, filmmaker and founder of ANO.
ANO – what does this signify?
It actually comes from the Ghanaian word for grandmother. In Ghana, grandmother or old woman, is a metaphor for knowledge and wisdom. ANO is very much also about bringing to the fore hidden or untold cultural histories, so she seemed like a very good metaphor for that. Also, in Esperanto it means belonging. When I started working in arts, African art was very much outside of the centre, so it is also about belonging to the world’s discourse and having our place.
How was the idea for this new art space born?
Last year I helped to set up a gallery, called Gallery 1957, in the Kempinski Hotel in Ghana. I had always realised the need for more sustainable spaces, but now understood the pragmatism of it. So more spaces that sell art, that invite collectors in and that give artists an opportunity to be sustainable and profitable. The space in the hotel was quite limited; a lot of people are very shy of coming into a five star hotel. So before, where we had been working more on content and narrative, now the idea of growth and even of profit, for growth, came into play.
What are your plans for this space?
It will be an exhibition space for exhibitions, performances and screenings, but it will also be a space for the creative community in Ghana to get together. So there is a library and a research centre. There will be lectures and workshops as well. And we are going to offer projects for schools, universities and for people who might not necessarily have a direct interest in art or culture.
You also want to develop a new model of showing contemporary art.
I think that the white cube space, the museum space, is one that is not very natural here in Ghana. Going in in silence with your hands behind your back and looking from a distance at the art work. I have been researching into the history of art and culture and how it’s mediated in Ghana for a while. And a lot of the time, it is very alive. In the past the biggest kind of exhibitions of contemporary art we had, were festivals. So it is about taking this model of aliveness, of the barrier between the audience and the artworks not really being existent.
Where is ANO located?
I have been looking quite a while for the right space and then I found this warehouse space within a creative community. It’s right in the centre of town, in the district of Osu. It goes off a main street, so as we have a shop front with windows, everybody going past sees it. Already now, even before we opened, people, school children, adults passing by, creatives, are coming to spend time here.
Could you tell us more about the inaugural exhibition?
I wanted to start off with looking at Accra because it is the centre of the country. « Accra, portraits of a city » explores what makes the city what it is and how it has evolved into this. Serge Attukwei Clottey, an installation artist, sculptor, painter and performance artist, is going to do a performance on the lagoon, which will be about the history of migration. There will be Paa Joe, a sculptor who makes fantasy coffins in incredible shapes and that talk of the rich world of the Ga people in Accra. We have two architects, Mae-Ling Lokko and Latifah Iddriss, who are looking at the future of the city and how it might look. And two photography studios, Deo Gratias and Felicia Abban, Ghana’s earliest known female photographer. These two studios have been documenting the becoming of Accra since at least 1920 – the city as it changed over time, the buildings as well as the people and fashions.
How do you finance this space?
It is a mixture of private income, grants, art sales and in the future also investments. I just got a book deal with a publishing company for a novel that I am writing and my entire book advance went into this space. Since setting up the gallery last year, I have had a lot of people approach me, who are interested into putting money into an art space, who see its profitability. Now for the first time I am also looking at models of how to work with investors and build partnerships. Selling art works at art fairs is another source of income. I am hoping to do 1:54 in London with ANO this year. So far we have also been getting grants, for example from LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Is there a strong demand for Ghanaian contemporary art on the local art market?
There is a surge in the demand for African art right now, especially internationally. Locally, we are still building it. We participated in Art X Lagos in Nigeria last year with ANO and did really well. There are more and more art fairs opening up on the continent, the market is definitely at its height right now.
How would you describe the situation of the art institutions in Ghana?
Our art scene still is quite young and so the first years we were all doing other jobs and putting the money into our organisations, trying in different ways to make things work. Now it is almost like a maturation of our environment, in which we are beginning to think about how we create profit, how we really become sustainable, how we create institutions that will outlive us. The art world in Ghana is very much based on mutual support. All the different organisations and institutions support each other. I think in the next years, we will see a lot more growth for all of us: the artists, the infrastructures and institutions.
You say on your website that you have dreamt of a cultural revolution in Ghana and on the continent as long as you remember.
We are coming out of this postcolonial moment right now. Our parents’ generation was trying to define itself in opposition to the colonial period and was sometimes still very much influenced by it. Our generation is trying to create ourselves anew, to give ourselves a freedom to be who we are, almost regardless of this kind of past. But in order to do that we are trying to push ahead with this cultural revolution, which is coming about a lot through the art, through letting go of these old ways and building new consciousness.
Where do you want ANO to be in five years?
I see it as being a hub or centre for the continent, with residency programmes for people to come here to create, exhibiting and selling works internationally, making sure that we and the artists are very sustainable. I see it as a centre that is helping to move the country forward, in terms of its discourse and the things it expresses and shows. As a space that provides parallel narratives for the country, for educational institutions to send their students and pupils to for seminars on cultural history and critical thought. To create something that has resonance both locally and internationally, and also helps to deepen the understanding of Ghana and the continent.