- Coda: Looking ForwardNew Directions for Visual Art Studies in Ghana
The study of the visual arts in Ghana has come a long way in the last sixty years. The contributions to this special issue of Ghana Studies are a testimony to the vitality of this field of inquiry and, as Nii Quarcoopome has noted, the expansion of the canon. Having considered the past and present, we thought it would be worthwhile to offer a few observations regarding the future: both where it seems to be headed, and where it needs to go. We asked each of the contributors if they might offer a few thoughts on the subject. What follows is a summary of their responses, integrated with our own reflections.
This collection of short essays reveals that, over the last sixty years, there has been a dramatic epistemic transformation of visual art/culture studies. Initially, individuals interested in the visual arts of Ghana focused on figurative sculpture, mostly in wood and terracotta, produced and used in vernacular settings—what is generally referred to as tradition-based art. [End Page 223] As noted in Quarcoopome's overview, the scope of inquiry began to broaden in the late 1970s with the incorporation of visual practices that included the working of metals (brass, gold, and iron), pottery, textiles, sign painting, and architecture. The most significant change occurred in the 1990s when studio-based academic art, long ignored by scholars and collectors, was "discovered" by the global art world. Since then, there has been a veritable explosion of interest in contemporary art produced by artists educated in the School of Art and Design at KNUST and other institutions; artists who have been stretching the boundaries of their visual practice, pursuing projects that involve traditional idioms as well as performance and community-engaged art-making. A new social consciousness is now part of the creative landscape, manifest in the work of artists such as Ibrahim Mahama, Serge Attukwei Clottey, and Kwame Akoto Bamfo. Joseph Oduro-Frimpong believes that it is important we assess the impact that these artists are having in the communities in which they live and work.
Today, interest in contemporary art has eclipsed the study of historical and vernacular art. Scholars of the visual arts of Ghana have expressed concern that a dichotomy now exists between tradition-based and academic practice, and that the two have little to do with one another. In our conversation with kąrî'kạchä seid'ou, he pointed out that this is a false dichotomy: while some scholars see these as separate arenas of visual practice, they are, in fact, two parts of a larger creative ecosystem. He argues that contemporary artists are constantly drawing inspiration from historic vernacular practices, and that artists who continue to make things that have been made for generations find themselves adopting and adapting new technologies and content in their work. We anticipate that the future will bring innovative exhibits and writing that put the vernacular and academic, the historic and contemporary, in dialogue with one another. To do so, fresh strategies for approaching visual culture will be required. Recognizing that Ghanaian visual practice is often a multimodal cultural phenomenon, Quarcoopome suggests that enhanced multidisciplinary collaboration involving cross-ethnic, cross-media, and cross-genre analyses is needed. Michelle Apotsos reinforces this stance, observing that, "Meaningful transformations are on the horizon with regards to the growth of critical cross-disciplinary analyses and approaches that privilege a more intersectional understanding of the diverse contexts and realities that inform creative production past and present."
Along similar lines, Ghanaian visual art/culture studies appear to be at a critical juncture: fundamental paradigms that have shaped the field are being challenged by scholars and artists. Several contributors expressed the need for jettisoning established hierarchies that have privileged certain visual practices while marginalizing others. For instance, as Quarcoopome observes, [End Page 224] the arts of Akan societies have dominated visual art/culture studies. Christopher Richards suggests that the visual practices of northern Ghana, having been overlooked for decades, need to be given more attention. The recent openings of the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in Tamale and an...