Art & Culture

The best galleries, art and theatre in Accra

Film

Paa Joe & the Lion film launches

  These days, the world knows where to come for a designer death-casket. Fantasy coffins have become one of Ghana’s most talked-about exports, featuring in international exhibitions, being written about in glossy magazines and being cooed over by the culturally curious. But the riotously colourful creations, which can take the form of anything from Nike trainers to mobile phones, represent far more than just whimsical woodwork, with each piece taking up to six weeks to make and requiring expert craftsmanship. Overseas interest in the coffins has resulted in increased exposure for Accra’s leading coffin sculptors, in particular 66-year-old Paa Joe, who together with son Jacob was invited over to the UK in mid-2013 to take up a month-long artists’ residency at a stately home open to the public in Nottinghamshire. Working together, father and son used the time to carve and construct a full-size example of their trademark lion coffin. But there was more to the project than simple creativity. The man behind their trip to England was British filmmaker Benjamin Midgley, who became aware that Paa Joe had been forced out of his Accra workshop to a roadside shack 90 minutes out of the city, due to a lack of funds. “To me he seemed like a fallen giant,” Benjamin tells Time Out. “Here was this pioneer, someone who had been making fantasy coffins for 50 years, who had been visited by US presidents, but who had fallen on hard times. He gets minimal passing trade in his current location.

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Art

The mystery of Accra's crime writer

A ll writers have their specialities. Dr Kwei Quartey deals in mysteries, and perhaps the biggest one of all is how a medical practitioner finds the time to write best-selling crime fiction. The Ghana-born California resident, a full-time doctor, has just released the third in his series of Inspector Darko Dawson mystery novels. Titled Murder At Cape Three Points, it sees the detective delving into a controversial but topical area: something the blurb describes as the “greed and corruption of Ghana’s brand new oil industry”.  If you’ve not yet come across Inspector Darko Dawson, here’s a brief introduction. He’s a CID detective in Accra. He has a weakness for marijuana, an anger management problem and a son with a congenital heart defect. He also has a mean eye for crime-solving. In short, he’s the kind of complex central character that every successful detective novel needs. So much so, in fact, that the first Darko Dawson novel, Wife of the Gods, made the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. The second and third in the series have both drawn positive reviews too.  And despite the super-human time management involved in juggling crime-writing and medicine (he gets up very early, apparently), it appears there’s actually a natural symbiosis between the two disciplines. “Oh, sure,” Quartey says, speaking to Time Out Accra from his home in Pasadena. “The detection that you’re doing in medicine is very similar to the work a police detective would do. When you have a patient come

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Things to do

Asante Treasures: Ghanaian goldweights

From the scales of a 19th-century Asante kingdom chief to a greasy spoon café in Peckham in 2010 is a remarkable journey for a brass goldweight to make. Measuring 2cm x 1.5cm x 1cm, the rectangular cuboid has an abstract pattern that vaguely suggests the sacred Asante Stool. It is embellished with few other decorative qualities. Yet imbued within the scarred metal and finger-worn edges is a story: the power of an Asante chief, decades of turbulent war with the British, a journey through the scrubland of Ghana, a flight to England and, most recently, a trip to a café in Peckham. Partly responsible for the voyage of the artefact is Tom Phillips, a distinguished painter, sculptor, composer, author and avid Ghanaian goldweight collector. Speaking a day before travelling to Berlin to launch his book African Goldweights, he explains the attraction of the weights. “I think they are beautiful objects,” he enthuses over a plate of liver, chips and beans. “They are incredibly delicate, and made using a forgotten method with beeswax. You try making them – it is very complicated”. Although the one now in my hand has a relatively simple design, the weights that were used to weigh gold-dust currency between the 15th and 19th centuries in the Asante Kingdom (and among other parts of the Akan entholinguistic group) come in a vast variety of different styles. The Asante region might have been restricted to West Africa, but a clear Muslim influence can be seen on early designs from the 16t

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Things to do

Talking Rubbish – how children are the key to a greener future

“Children are key to change because they are not set in their ways,” explains Cordie Aziz, Executive Director of charity Environment360, a charity dedicated to cleaning up Accra. “Our organisation believes that children are powerful change agents that can transform their communities into cleaner and greener spaces. Our diverse programmes empower children to clean their communities as well as gain a greater appreciation of nature.” Environment 360 works with children through educational field trips, ‘do it yourself’ workshops and a variety of recyclable art classes that teach children how to creatively reuse their waste. They are also working with Voltic, Ghana's largest water supplier, on a series community recycling programmes. “Environment360 believes that waste is a way to economically empower many disenfranchised individuals. We believe that by exposing people to the opportunities that exist in the trash industry we can create an entire generation of leaders that create sustainable products that help us not only keep Ghana clean, but help combat climate change and environmental degradation throughout the world.”   FULL INTERVIEW WITH CORDIE AZIZ: How did Environment 360 come about? I moved to Accra four years ago and I noticed that the city was getting dirtier and dirtier, especially the beaches. Since I plan on residing in Ghana I really was curious to why communities weren't participating in good environmental sanitation habits, which affect us all. So I started to

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Music

The best live music venues

Ghanaian music is blowing up on the international stage. Some of the country's best-loved artists are now making waves far beyond West African shores. The country's trademark genre is highlife, which has its roots in pre-colonial times, but hiplife, an energetic hybrid of highlife, dancehall and hip hop, is a new pretender to the throne. Music is the lifeblood of Accra - no trip to the capital would be quite complete without a trip to one of these swinging live music venues.

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Accra's best art galleries

Museums

Nubuke Foundation

The Nubuke Foundation has been in this, its first permanent location, since 2009. In this pleasant building in East Legon is one of the most interesting art galleries in the city. It was set up to provide an artistic space for Ghanaian artists (often in collaboration with artists from other countries) and show off their talents. It has also a philanthropic aim to support artisans around the country. One successful project was with kente cloth weavers in Tsiame, in the Volta Region, teaching them how to make more commercially appealing cloth (tableware and bedding for example) as well as improving techniques such as colour fastening. The results, available at its shop, are beautiful pieces of work (between GH¢100-600 for two yards). Its vibrant cultural offering includes poetry evenings, Saturday workshops, art walks, film and music. Keep an eye on the website for details.

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Art

Artists Alliance Gallery

This three-storey gallery is home to a large array of Ghanaian artists and sculptors such as Augustine Gokah, Betty Acquah, Nii T Mills, Ebenezer Borlabie, Kofi Setorji and Gabriel Eklou. Ablade Glover (see interveiw on page 4), one of Ghana’s most respected artists, conceived the Artists Alliance Gallery in the 1960s. He saw the need for a showcase for fine arts in Ghana to act as a driving force to gain recognition around the world. There are not only contemporary arts, but also collectors’ pieces: beautiful, fragile Asafo flags with appliquéd and embroidered symbols, and ancient strip-woven kente cloths. It sells art directly from the artist.

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Art

Loom

Loom’s Frances Ademola has a popular gallery that exhibits paintings and sculptures by a good selection of Ghana’s foremost artists, with a smattering of expressive Nigerian pieces. The modest space has been here since 1969, and is bursting at the seams with the work of nearly 100 artists. If Ademola is around, she’s delightful company, chatting exuberantly about artists such as Seth and Serge Clottey and Gabriel Eklou, and happily offering her great knowledge of the Ghanaian art scene, past and present. Loom is regarded as one of Ghana’s premier galleries.

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Shopping

Joe’s Perspective Art Boutique

This luxury art boutique set up by Kukua Ampah has recently opened a branch at the new Mövenpick Ambassador Hotel. Many of the elegant and creative pieces here are bespoke and adapted by Kukua. Modern works of art incorporating the rich cultural influences of West Africa are created, customised and commissioned by Kukua’s clients. A key range is the elegant metal flowing sculptures, partly polished, partly left to gather the natural colours of metal. Beautiful. This is the place for the classiest souvenir. Other location Labadi Beach Hotel. Open 8.30am-9pm Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri; 10am-8pm Wed; 8.30am-7pm Sat; noon-6pm Sun (0204 311 126).

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Latest art and culture features

Music

From highlife to hiplife

Accra is one of Africa's leading musical cities - and the spiritual home of a style that's been taking over the world in recent years: African highlife

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Things to do

Best art galleries in Accra

From colourful caskets to classic watercolours

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Bizarre buildings

Accra's architecture: the good, the bad and the downright strange

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African art

Time Out's slideshow of art and crafts to see in museums and galleries across Accra

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Art

The art of death

An inside look at Accra's iconic fantasy coffin art - as practised by the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop

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Accra's cultural centres

Things to do

Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut is the German cultural centre and celebrates 50 years of being in Ghana. It has an impressive array of events and art exhibitions. Links between German art and that of Ghana are given precedence, whether through sound installations, mixed media pieces, performance art, photography or painting. It also occasionally lends its venue to the National Film and Television Institute next door. Be sure to check the website or pick up a programme of events when you are in town.

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Alliance Française d’Accra

The Accra-based arm of the French cultural centre offers a large range of artistic activities every week. It particularly excels in live music events, but there are also regular art displays and talks from international artists. The obvious focus is on French and Ghanaian artists (often working together), which forms an artistic bridge between both cultures in terms of language, education and artistic programming. Recent shows have included the film screening and photography exhibition from Sublime World Productions’ project Sounds from Ghana, and artistic exhibition Les Jardins de la Francophonie featuring five francophone West African artists: Samuel Tete-kathan, Kassy, Edem Gota, Yao Sewonou and Salifou Oura. There is always something interesting on; be sure to look at the website before any visit to Accra.

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Museums

Nubuke Foundation

The Nubuke Foundation has been in this, its first permanent location, since 2009. In this pleasant building in East Legon is one of the most interesting art galleries in the city. It was set up to provide an artistic space for Ghanaian artists (often in collaboration with artists from other countries) and show off their talents. It has also a philanthropic aim to support artisans around the country. One successful project was with kente cloth weavers in Tsiame, in the Volta Region, teaching them how to make more commercially appealing cloth (tableware and bedding for example) as well as improving techniques such as colour fastening. The results, available at its shop, are beautiful pieces of work (between GH¢100-600 for two yards). Its vibrant cultural offering includes poetry evenings, Saturday workshops, art walks, film and music. Keep an eye on the website for details.

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Attractions

WEB Du Bois Memorial Centre

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an African-American civil rights activist who became a citizen of Ghana in the 1960s. He was known as the ‘Father of Pan-Africanism’. The centre, where he and his wife once lived, and where they are now buried, houses his personal library, a small museum with a handful of personal effects such as his graduation robes. The couple’s mausoleum is surrounded by Asante stools, a seminar room, a restaurant, a gallery, an amphitheatre and a research centre for Pan-African history and culture.

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