“The revolution is black, female, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming”
– Lhola Amira
Accra is evolving at a fast-pace. Recently named Africa’s capital of cool by the New York Times, the unremitting music (and radio) is joined by a bursting art scene. What characterizes the art scene in this city, however, is its markedly political character. Art is imagined to elicit discussion and it does so in different forms. At Chale Wote – an art festival that should not be missed – artists displayed paintings that called for respect for people with disabilities or screamed #blacklivesmatter (literally). The Accra Theater Workshop put together a play – An African Walks into a Voting Booth – in which artists performed six sketches that satirized Ghanaian elections. The sketches were followed by a debate on the political situation in the country and the director, Efua Sutherland, encouraged both the elder and the youth present in the room to exchange opinions and ideas.
Most recently, Lhola Amira, in collaboration with The Studio Accra, presented “Looking for Ghana & The Red Suitcase.” The performance took place in a white room decorated with underwear hanging from the ceiling, a table in which the artist had her computer, wine, a cutting board with onions, and her notebooks. Amira, who calls herself an utopianist despite a world that remains anti-black and anti-women, read excerpts that were her own as well as texts from others who had resonated with her, yet most of the evening consisted of debate, discussions in which the public expressed their views on what Africa is and what is in it.
Afropolitanism, Afrofuturism, the decolonization agenda, formalized versus honorary people’s knowledge, and the role of education, among many other issues, were discussed. To some, being African was presented as contrary to being Westernized and recovering traditional, “authentic” practices (what is authentic, however, remains unclear); to others, “my Africa is not the Africa in which you must eat fufu and wear kente.” It meant pushing to create local products and stories, “taking pride in what we have,” changing perceptions, and taking back the narrative.
“The idea of these underwear is that you take one and write your heart’s desire. One day, I’ll wear them and give birth to them. I will give birth to your dreams”
To manifest Revolutionary LOVE | A continental working class movement | To truly not give a fuck about nonsense
Across the different artistic expressions that I have witnessed, some themes reoccur with persistence. Firstly, the need to take the narrative back, to construct a system in African terms (sometimes, pan-African terms). Tied to these theme, is the notion of self-pride and self-worth. As Amira put it, currently there is no space to exist as radical self-loving beings.
The third and less obvious theme is the notion of art as “a class thing.” Albeit this is a concern brought up during Amira’s performance, it was less evident but still obvious in the rest. Art has the potential to contribute greatly to social justice – it can be a means to increase self-worth, trigger needed conversations, expose injustices, and advance great causes – but how to do this in a way that reaches all layers of society (or has an impact for all of them) and not just the highly educated elites?
Most of the questions posed remain unanswered and many of the opinions were rapidly contested or build on, yet the fact that these spaces exist demonstrates the wealth in Accra, Ghana, the continent. I am not speaking in terms of material wealth; the wealth resides in the willingness of the youth to engage in dialogue, use art to contest the status quo, and work hard to extend their conversations beyond their own milieu. The revolution will be intergenerational, interclass, feminist, and may I add, for people with different abilities.