Did I just see some creeping creatures on the floor? And hey; on the walls too? Yes, I did, my sight isn’t that bad after all.
An army of ants, creeping from four different directions on the walls.
These types I know don’t bite, but the sight of them is not one too fancy to behold.
But participants looked on unperturbed, creeping slowly; the very naughty ones had gone down from the wall to the floor with some virtually searching for God knows what in my hand bag. I had left it on the floor for just five seconds.
”I can’t be here because of the ant”, these were some of the comments I keenly listened in anticipation to hear from participants, most of whom were classic, but I guess I have to wait till thy kingdom come. You know why? Well, because these were ants made by humans.
Yes, you heard me, man-made ants. Just like we have man-made shoes in the market for sale, participants including myself who thronged the Savanna Center for Contemporary Arts (SCCA) on Friday March 15, 2019 saw for the first time armies of ant made by men.
“There are a thousand of them made by myself and students of the College of Arts of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology”, Galle Winston Kofi Dawson, the lead creator of the “ants” intimated. The college is an affiliate of the University of London’s Goldsmith College.
The ants, each matching the size of my fourth finger are made with groundnut shells, their feet which is made from steel for me took the center of the exhibition of art works by the legend.
None could pass by these tiny creatures coated in shades of red, gold, green, brown, and black colours without smiling at them. Others took ‘selfies’ besides the group that had gathered on a neatly coated center table in the middle of one of the exhibition halls.
Just then something clicked inside me, hey jack up! You’re here to work, just then the journalistic me began asking questions, why would one waste time making ant of all the creatures on the face of the earth as part of their art work?
The lead creator was whisked away by visitors who wouldn’t miss a ‘selfie’ time with a legend just when I turned to ask him that question. Sad, I missed the revealing moment but hey, the next image in my mind was sights back home.
Armies of ant are usually the first sight that greets you when you arrive home especially in my part of the country. I could see a replica of a typical Ghanaian home at the exhibition. For somebody who spends most of my time in rural communities, “guunyili” ( dagbani name for ant hill) was what I saw.
But the owner of the Savanna Center for Contemporary Arts (SCCA) Ibrahim Mahama, had an entirely different explanation,” the ant were created perhaps in the 90s and there were a few Dawson had experimented on. In other to realize this exhibition, we did about thousand of them aside the ones he’s created. It is supposed to highlight the significance of the spectrum of his (Dawson’s) work”.
I needed to take the best shots for my work so quickly I dashed towards the west wing of the center where I could position myself to take the most captivating shots, but just then somebody caught my attention.
It’s a student from the Art College of KNUST, his hair-do though. He wasn’t the only one with a classy braided hair but there was something unique about him, we will discuss that later.
“Nk)so)” which literally means progress, “nunya” which I was told means wisdom in Ewe and some other names starred me in the face.
I was caught in the web and just when I tried freeing myself of what those names were, ”can you go upstairs, you can have beautiful shots from there”, came a voice. ‘I have those shots Sir, I reluctantly whispered.”
You should by now be thinking I’m mentioning names of friends or probably name tags of ushers at the event right?
Well, that was another intriguing moment. The above mentioned names are names of brushes. Aane, brushes; pencil and painting brushes made from “khebab sticks” by Kofi Dawson.
“Breana is the name of my grand-daughter and I decided to name one of my brushes after her”, his faint voice said. It is clear old age is catching up with him so fast.
So he doesn’t just paint, he makes his brushes, a true definition of genius. For Kofi Dawson, the absence of brushes for painting which he said is usually made abroad shouldn’t be why an artist will not paint.
“I make the brushes to prove to my mentees that we can produce what we need for our work,” he said.
On the walls of the giant edifice were at least fifty different paintings and art works ranging from oil on canvas, bamboo pen, silkscreen printing acrylic paint, and pen and ink on paper pasted on canvas; they all told contemporary history of Ghana and the Ghanaian people.
One of such magnificent art work is a painting of a spot in Nima in Accra where he Dawson used to hang out after a hard day’s work. For someone born in 1940, telling the hustling and bustling of the people in Nima meant a lot to him.
In that painting are two women on benches, another woman kneeling besides them with her hands on her head, depicting a tired person. In that same painting is one other woman seated on a kitchen stool with a plate in her hands while stretching it, and then a man with a plate of komi ke kena (Kenkey) and a sachet of water.
In a corner somewhere is a military armour vehicle and the traffic light infront of the Nima Police Station. “To complete such a painting an artist needs at least fifteen different brushes”.
“In pursuit of something beautiful perhaps”, the acrylic on canvas painting is among the latest paintings on the staple of the legend.
It depicts life in Nima, where Kofi Dawson lived most of his life and became material for his Afro-journalistic study-drawings and writings. No wonder it appears to be the best pick of the Curator Bernard Akoi-Jackson.
“That painting picked by the Curator tells the story of street life in Nima, the two women on the benches are kayaye who slept off just the minute their skins touched the benches. The one kneeling had no bench to sleep on but had to rest no matter what and the man eating the komi ke kena was a shop owner,” Kofi Dawson revealed.
At a point, I wished I hadn’t carried my camera so I could have all the time to myself to explore all the art works with some dated two decades back.
Geoffrey Buta, the award winning photojournalist with the Ghanaian Times Newspaper was there but was without a camera, I got jealous. You should see my face when he positioned himself by the “trotro moment” painting for a picture.
I love art, but they’re usually expensive at the art centers. Curator Bernard Akoi-Jackson assures the SCCA will bridge the gap between cost and access.
“I don’t think contemporary art isn’t accessible. We should also equally appreciate art and which better way than to make at least the seeing of it free and accessible. We tailor educational programming towards younger, older, and people in the informal sector so that each person can have a way of approaching contemporary art”.
Thirty one year old Ibrahim Mahama, a native of Tamale and a PhD student at the KNUST studying Philosophy in Painting is inspired by the works of his mentor Kofi Dawson, also an alumnus of the College of Art KNUST, and he said it will provide the opportunity to showcase the works of Dawson which hitherto would not be seen by the world.
He didn’t hide his disappointment in governments for not promoting the works of Ghanaian artists, but for him, the Curator, and Galle Winston Kofi Dawson, the edifice, is the renewed hope for practicing and up and coming artists.
“It’s because we don’t have many of such spaces around, it’s also because the state hasn’t put in a lot of resources into the cultural sector so there’s this kind of deficiency in the sector”.
Are the paintings for sale, I quizzed?
“This space isn’t for money making; it’s just a space for artists to showcase their works. It’s my way of giving back to the society. We will open other spaces in the coming months and they’re all to promote arts and also provide the world a place where they can access Ghana’s history,” he said with so much passion in his eyes.
Hah(sigh), for a country that is yet to complete the construction of a National Musuem which was designed by the first President Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah after sixty two years; please do make your way to the Northern Regional Capital Tamale and feed your senses, (in the voice of the Curator) with breath taking paintings and arts works.
Hope you haven’t forgotten the student who caught my attention with his hair-do, he’s Isaac Abbey, a 4th year student of the Department of Painting and Sculpture, Faculty of Art. I’m thinking of growing my son’s hair after SHS so I braid it.
The first exhibition will be displayed for six months where new works will be replaced. For those of you who want to read literature on contemporary arts, there is a library stocked with books from renowned writers that will come in handy. Visit the SCCA and thank me later.
By Zubaida Ismail