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.
With modernist and Soviet- influenced lines, the stands around Independence Square can seat 30,000 people. The vast area, built under Kwame Nkrumah, is designed for huge events and military marches, but it is usually empty except for a few soldiers sheltering from the sun. The only times the square comes alive are at commercial events such as concerts and fashion shows, which take place throughout the year. Even if there’s not much happening it’s worth wandering around just to marvel at the sheer audacity of it all.The Independence Arch, at the centre of the busy roundabout, is also known as Black Star Square, thanks to the motif that dominates the arch. The sculpture is a nod to Ghana’s acclaim as the ‘Black Star of Africa’: it was an inspiration to other African countries vying for independence and the Flame of African Liberation, lit by Nkrumah, still burns strongly nearby. Please note that there are (seemingly unwritten) laws about taking photographs and we strongly suggest that you don’t take photographs of any part ofthe area.
Along the seafront near Black Star Square is the Arts Centre. Hawkers attack from all sides as soon as you arrive, but if you’re not exhausted by the scrum you can find carvings, baskets, drums, bags, beads, fabrics, sandals, sculptures, stools, rugs and occasionally antiques. It’s a place to unearth some incredible finds and gifts. The best bet is to head past the hassle which you’ll inevitably encounter at the entrance and make your way towards the back of the complex, where it’s a bit more relaxed. Haggling is expected. There’s also an art gallery, which sells prints and paintings at reasonable prices.
Reggae DJs play on Wednesday night near an open bar that is stocked with local and imported beers. There are occasional live bands, as well as acrobats and other entertainment. The groups come from around Accra as well as from neighbouring countries. The standard is very high and you’ll likely catch something that gets you moving. It draws a mix of international students, reggae lovers, rastafarians and the less pious ‘rental dreads’ looking to hook up with a foreigner or at least sell some Rasta-styled wares. A worthwhile trip if you are in town.
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.