Sunday, 20 January 2008

New Art Centres Springing up in West Africa.

Prof Ablade Glover finally opens the purpose built Artists' Alliance Building.

In 2005 I visited Ghana and paid the usual courtesy call to Prof Ablade at the old Artist Alliance gallery. He spoke to me about the new building which was still at the middle stages of construction. From my calculation it must have taken a minimum of 4 years to build because in 2005 he told me it should be ready by the end of 2006. Now I am ecstatic that it has finally opened at beginning of this new year. Ecstatic because I have a some idea of the kind of herculean task it takes to set up a visual arts initiative in Africa which to borrow from baba OBJ our former president during the 2007 election is a 'do or die' affair. It is pity that our so called political leaders will move Olomu rock to hang onto power - witness what is happening in Kenya . But try and get them to approve the revised National Cultural Policy which would bring a modicum of succour to the arts and culture section with the implementation of a National Endowment for Arts and a few generations will come and go first.

Kofi Annan delivering the opening speech.
So individuals have to go it alone and going it alone they are. Now in his mid-seventies Prof Glover has set up a challenge to other artists living on and off the continent that they need to leave a legacy that goes beyond their artworks being in private and public collections. Artists, curators and writers shouldn't be doing that but that is the reality of our situation. In Nigeria Uncle Bruce Onobrakpeya is building a monumental project that when finished should put all our former and current Ministers of Culture to shame - apart from the one who implemented the National Theatre project and Festac 77 during OBJ's first coming as a military dictator oops military Head Of State. Everyday we all groan under the weight of anything to show for our petrodollars 50 years after the first crude was lifted out of the Niger Delta and taken to the UK. I presume they didn't pay for it as we were still a colony them.

Kofi Annan and Prof Glover visiting the gallery
For more information visit

pics culled from the above site.

Other artists financing structures from the sale of their work include Barthelemy Toguo who has almost finished what looks like an exciting structure, Bandjoun Station in Cameroon. An ambitious project and necessary project consisting of 5 levels. A seminar room at basement level, ground floor with a library and bar ( to stimulate an interest in culture he says!) the 1st and 2nd floor will be for temporary exhibitions whilst the 3rd will be for a permanent exhibition/collection. Toguo is anxious that the contemporary arts of Africa will suffer the same kind of fate as its classical arts. Displayed in museums and galleries outside the continent to the detriment of future generations. He has cause for concern. The courtyard will be used as an open-air theatre for events and next door a building which will be used for artists' studios and residencies of African and international artists. Impressive indeed. I am sure it should open sometime this year.

View of almost completed Bandjoun Station
These portend exciting times. These artists know what they went through to get to where they are and it is a tribute to their altruism that they want to make sure that future generations have a fighting chance of success that doesn't depend on infrastructures provided solely by foreign cultural centers as has been the case since independence. This is pertinent as many foreign centers cut back on cultural in Africa and are moving towards China, India and the Middle East. The era of post post -independence is here.

What is needed now are operational strategies and business models that allow these initiatives to achieve a high level of longterm sustainability independent of international grants which usually come with IMF/World Bank like conditionalities. The cultural industry sector is huge in Africa and there is no reason that with just a little bit less hustling and a little bit more strategic thinking and partnerships, a 'real' African cultural renaissance - not the Mbeki, Obj NEPAD one - can take place, started and driven by ordinary citizens. That is the current important challenge and that is where African cultural professionals in the diaspora to come into the picture.

I congratulate my colleagues, I salute their courage and commitment and I pray for God's shower of blessings as they move ahead with their projects. Today, Tomorrow and Always.

View of the courtyard


Blogger Iria said...

Whatever happened to past efforts by Demas Nwoko with his New Creation Studio and Uche Okeke Asele Institute at Nimo

12 February 2008 at 13:41  
Blogger Ijeoma Uche-Okeke said...

Re-Iria's Comment
The New Culture Studios and Asele Institute still exist. At the moment let's just say they're lying ''fallow''. I can say authoritatively that Asele due to Professor Uche Okeke's current state of health will not be really operational for a while until it is again rejuvenated by the children. You'll definitely be hearing more from and of that quarter in the very near future. Thank you for enquiring about them.

16 February 2008 at 16:07  

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