Zoom down the Kanda Highway in Accra at night and you might miss the series of kiosks that line the pavement, facing the grand mosque that overlooks them. Crawl through traffic on that same road the next morning as cars head towards the government ministries and head offices in Accra Central and you’ll see those kiosks transformed. From light bulbs and plug sockets to biscuits and soft drinks, collectively the unassuming structures – often used for lodging at night – become a centre of commerce during the day.
Ghana has a housing crisis and Accra – the country’s capital and the most favored destination for urban migration – with its luxury high rise apartments and cookie-cutter townhouses is increasingly marginalizing those who are far from able to get a piece of the real estate pie. When government and politicians fail to address social issues that tend to have a more lasting effect on those with the least resources who picks up the baton to make note of these issues?
At the end of October 2015, writer and cultural historian Nana Oforiatta-Ayim opened her research centre, ANO, with an exhibition ‘KIOSK Culture’. The exhibition sought to address how the country can alleviate its housing shortage by capitalising on the structures that already exist rather than execute suspicious reactionary demolitions across the capital that render thousands homeless.
Works from architects and artists who seek to explore and investigate ways in which kiosks and containers can be upgraded and utilised for living, trigger thoughts on how a very real societal problem can be viewed through the prism of art. “The whole idea of the centre is to show how culture impacts society and how society expands by culture,” says Oforiatta-Ayim. “You can say things in art that can reflect on what’s happening in the bigger picture, in all of society, in this clear and concentrated way,” Oforiatta-Ayim reflects. “When it goes back into society something happens. It’s like alchemy. Sometimes you don’t feel the effect straight away but I still think it’s still powerful.”
The exhibition in Accra is a starting point but a key factor is that Oforiatta-Ayim plans to move it across the country, building on existing structures to make it accessible to the wider population in what could be described as an open interactive exhibition.
The kiosk in the ANO exhibition is immediately recognisable for many. Transformed from its normal function it becomes a gallery in its own right, recognisable and approachable to its visitors. Inside the kiosk are case studies by the architect Latifah Idriss whose work took her across the country to study and develop blue prints for sustainable kiosks for living and working in.
Another architect DK Osseo Asare displays his sketches of existing structures he has created by up-cycling bamboo to fabricate water tanks, performance stages and canopies. Next door, artist Yaw Brobbey Kyei drawings wallpaper the room with his drawings of a myriad of kiosks on cardboard canvases. All the while, the familiar sounds of Accra fill the centre courtesy of a sound installation by Lawrence Baganiah. A film directed by Oforiatta-Ayim following her on her journey through Accra as she curates items from Ga culture for her first kiosk museum, is projected on the walls of the house converted research centre.
These artists are not alone in their quest for social activism. “My work is about the people,” states Ghanaian performance artist Serge Attukwei Clottey whose work highlights political, religious and environmental issues that affect the country. Less focused on getting his work into galleries than he is showing his work publicly he adds: “I invite people to see my work, to touch and see the process.”
When transporting his gallons – sometimes 30 or 40 at a time – from the beach side to his studio Clottey does so on foot with a team of assistants with the gallons on their backs effectively evoking a performance piece that stirs his neighbours and causes them to ask questions about what he is doing.
Festivals like ACCRA[dot]ALT’s Chalewote Street Art Festival brings together contemporary narratives about how the country is developing and how the citizens want it developed through artistic expression that touch on human technology, the environment and reimagined futures.
Back at ANO, if conversation is one step then action is the next. Oforiatta-Ayim hopes to hold discussions beyond the art world that would involve the main stakeholders: those living in kiosks, urban planners and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, then take it to the radio. “The artist is a social educator,” Clottey affirms. “Creating relationships and awareness between objects and the audience.”