African art is a good investment. New World Map by El Anatsui, a Ghanaian artist recently appointed as the first African Royal Academician, sold in 2012 for £541,250, a record for contemporary African art. The works of the late Nigerian painter are also fetching hundreds of thousands, while Ghana’s Ablade Glover, who had a recent solo retrospective at the October Gallery in London, has long gained acclaim internationally. And of course, Ghana’s now famous “coffin art” has understandably captured attention throughout the world; works can be seen in the British Museum in London
Yet locally, the art scene is only just beginning to get off the ground. This has been disappointing to some, although others have seen it as an opportunity – quality is getting better all the time. If you’re looking to purchase, aim for those works that aren’t mere copycats. Commercial galleries in Accra are great places to pick up quality art at a decent price. One new gallery, which also offers a “consultation service”, is Tiga African Art – it’s a good place to buy paintings and, not so commonly, sculptures. Loom Gallery owner Frances Ademola, doyenne of Accra’s art scene for decades, has been spotting emerging artists in Ghana for more than 40 years. She cites Gabriel Eklou, Gordon Amponsah, Seth Clottey and his eldest son Serge Clottey as the artists to watch out for. Samuel Agbenyegah (also known as Samkobee) is also a young and highly-regarded artist. “He came to me when he was 12 with two wonderful paintings,” explains Ademola. “I said ‘who did these?’ He said ‘me’. I didn’t believe him and told him to go and do another one. He came back with four more.”
The biggest gallery in Ghana is the Artists Alliance, founded by Ablade Glover. Everything on its walls is for sale. The Aid to Artisans shop, also in the same building, is a great place to pick up crafts, as is Joe’s Perspective, which sells beautiful bespoke art commissioned and designed by Kukua Ampah. If you dare take on the touts, meanwhile, you’ll also find a bargain at the Arts Centre. If you head towards the back of the centre, you’ll find the most interesting stuff. Finally, you’re assured of seeing something wonderful at the Nubuke Foundation. It works towards an admirable cause and is one of the principal advocates of Ghanaian art
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.
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.
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.
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).
The Foundation for Contemporary Art at the WEB du Bois Centre (a research centre for Pan-African history and culture, named after African-American civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois) was set up by Joe Nkrumah, formerly of the National Museum, and Australian artist Virginia Ryan. It exhibits work by up-and-coming artists in interesting ways, such as its Art in the Garden projects. Its growing library, now with more than 800 books about visual arts, is one of the organisation’s most important projects. It’s also developing a debating forum and a public database of artists, organisations, galleries and patrons. There’s a wide range of information on its website.