graffiti artists give the best gift one could think of to a supportive community

a team of graffiti artists hit the jamestown streets and added some inviting hue to their walls between the 6th and the 8th of may. it’s such an admirable gesture of making such decorous art in the jamestown community with a project they call meeting of styles but most importantly the collective left a mark of embedding motivational statements and symbols like freedom, pain-gain, teshie-rise, etc in the spirit of revival or positive progressive activation for those who come into contact with the work.

it’s not really clear who among the creative lot brought up this great idea, but it’s certainly crystal each of the vibrant and prolific street artists participating in this genuinely ingenious activity of giving back to the people living in spaces usually termed as urban slums have left some inspiration which will live after their names. over the years in ghana, graffiti has grown in popularity as a very catchy street art form and neighbourhoods as well as art festivals and events have seen the magic via the splash from the guts of spray cans.

“[it is] an introductory graffiti art event by the ghanaian crew; ghana graffiti. the crew is set to challenge societal defects using street art as a medium to communicate with the citizens of a disturbed biome. altering physical spaces with thought-provoking and creative content for social change and aesthetics is the function of the crew even as the members individually address various topics of a changing world. the graffiti crew hopes to be an artistic body of exclusively street artists pushing ghana beyond corridors;” ian kwakye; a digital graphic artist and entrepreneur from the street style virtuosi collective who put together meeting of styles expounds.

the global art village has seen the unprecedented influence and commercial success of street artists over the years. one can easily identify whiz kids banksy or shepard fairey who is also the founder of obey clothing. the overall implications for urban art across board has shifted from an era where they drew controversy due to their methods of display; to presently where we find forms like graffiti being used to add taste to private property. now, we bear witness to how the channeling of iconographic street art opens new platforms and possibilities for expression of ideas for youth from ghana and beyond.

illustrator and visual social commentator, also from the meeting of styles project; bright ackwerh, describes the work as “an overture of a sort to a series of social engagement graffiti/mural projects by several artists who express themselves with the graffiti/mural/street art medium in ghana.” the integral group is made up of friends and long time collaborators moh awudu, kali, deff, ian kwakye and himself.

the project looks to be a mobile entity to convey this spirit of dynamic science to spaces they identify and subsequently occupy with their vibrant incentives to awaken the people and motivate them. “the main idea is to go to different spaces and leave them inspirational messages via the artwork and the interactions we have with the people from the space;” bright reiterates. “also, the people of jamestown are dear to us because for the last 6-7 years they have opened their space to the art community of ghana and that place has become an artist haven as much as a socio-political historic site;” he continues.

jamestown has been the home of west africa’s biggest street art festival; the annual chale wote festival which comes off in august- 18th to 21st this year. the festival has opened doors for the youth from all corners to collaborate, capture and consolidate fusions, new forms of craft and experimental installations and performances and looks forward to break its previous record of bringing together more than 20,000 people in 2 days to indulge, observe and document street art from ghana.

bright expands the theme he worked on and relates it to the general disposition of the population as well as the drive of the collective, by saying: “however we felt the space wasn’t developing as much as it could. The mental drive there is pretty strong but not strong enough to cause quick change to the environment. my piece kw3: teeshi rise is my message to the space, like: wake up! get up! realize you are so low you are killing yourself. learn, come out of your yourselves and fly! teeshi is ga language loosely translated as rise. i borrowed the literary aesthetic from accra[dot]alts usage of names like dzala butik (he laughs). I feel if we really want to feed someone, we digest the meal to their ingestion level and give it to them because at this point our fervor is to see them eat.”

aside street art’s ability to transcend the subversive and enter the accepted mainstream, don’t we find it interesting here as it’s amiably being used as a tribute to a community which has supported the growth of a contemporary language and voice of the aware youth?

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ibrahim mahama on gentrification, uneven distribution of resources and the state as a ‘terrorizing figure’

ibrahim mahama was born in 1987 and is currently pursuing a phd in the faculty of painting and sculpture at k.n.u.s.t., kumasi, ghana. he is one of the youngest but as well one of the most exposed artists in the contemporary art exhibition and market worlds from sub saharan africa, having represented at last year’s 56th international art exhibition; venice biennale which ran from 9th may to 22nd november 2015 with the largest or most ambitious piece of work out of bounds.

this month of may has seen him visiting khib academy in bergen, norway and dusseldorf to give presentations on his work.

Untitled
ibrahim mahama, untitled, 2014, coal sacks, 183*213cm. photo credit: saatchi galléry

his works are stitched patchworks of sprawls  made from jute sacks which are imported by the ghana cocoa board from india or bangladesh for the use of bagging cocoa but later re-purposed for bagging charcoal, rice, millet, vegetables or other commodities as market goods distributors find fitting. though international policies state that the sacks are supposed to be used to transport cocoa just once, the actual movement of the sacks on the market is only either dictated by who gets their hands on them and finds them useful for their purpose or the extent of their durability.

as such the traits of typical west african local labour system peculiarities like markings to determine ownership and control; example titling(names, abbreviations or locations) with indelible ink or paint on the matted brown surfaces of jute especially when these goods are going into storage or are being conveyed from one point to another so they are not lost is almost inevitable. do we find the irony in this practice as compared to tattoos on the bodies, usually inner forearms of these traders?

ibrahim’s style of presenting these sacks is significantly unique as if it is a lengthy overture of conjoined stories or a rendition of maps with no particularity on focus with regards to specific transit points or continuous entitlements. the occasional insertion of mass-produced wax prints from china is an additional layer of questioning and connection in theme since the whole package identifies one way or the other as an indirect vessel of portrayal of the global movement of goods.

as german-ghanaian contemporary artist zohra opoku would put it; “fashion negotiates a political and psychological role related to socio-cultural dynamics in relation to african history and individualistic or societal identities.” we find the connection in the politics of consumerism, aesthetic value and affairs of control that link individuals to their nationalistic entities. how do we identify that the goods we consume or push into the market do not have strings attached to one or more of concepts like neo-liberalism or appropriation, or is the consumerist market totally linked to equal weights of pendulums on each side regarding globalization?

ibrahim’s works have nuzzled external and internal part or full portions of museum exhibition walls, libraries, completed and uncompleted government-owned buildings, social places still in use like bridges, car lots, etc. in-depth, the work takes on the less discussed connection between the mechanisms of trade even at the less affluent local sector; taking into account the people involved who might either be skilled or unskilled, and the bloated world economy.

“construction has been very much a part of my work and i’m very much interested in public space;” the artist explains. the materials he’s worked with have evolved from plaster of paris also known as gypsum plaster to jute sacks, but there’s always been the presence of ‘bodies’, either functioning as a source for sculptural molds or as part of the production or installation process.

he’s been working with market porters locally called kaya who have a specific migration trail from the north of ghana to the south though “the entitlement of nationhood is bleak on them.” a sense of awareness about gentrification in his work’s detail is in sharp contrast with the element of collaboration during production that he identifies with. such critical discourse through art is not only timely but essential for any developing country.

though christo and jeanne-claude might be the pioneers of this field of ‘wrapping’, but ibrahim has grown his own niche of making patchworks come to life. we see the artist pointing in another direction when asked about motivation for his work;  “i’m inspired by le corbusier’s drawings.”

ibrahim sometimes takes his work to “abandoned buildings inhabited by social deviants”  and explains that “crisis is mostly a starting point for me. i’m not afraid to be robbed, etc. there’s always an attack one way or the other because i transport the people i work with to other spaces within this same country(referring to ghana) and people say they don’t belong here but no one belongs within a certain space.”

in terms of availability of space for artists for exhibition purposes and his personal experiences, ibrahim narrates that; “in the past, hotels provided their lobbies to artists to show their works. artists would criticize hotels for not giving them their spaces. you do not need a museum to do art. it takes very long negotiations to get space to undertake my work because they don’t really understand. the language of the work does not make sense to everybody. some think there’s a construction going on. there’s this building which had been there for about 50 years but people didn’t take notice of it till i covered it with jute sacks.”

even his style of documentation is unique and connected to his style of practice; “videos i produce from my work are collages. i don’t have a recorder on the device i use so it’s sounds from other spaces/occupations/experiences i fuse. drones have been catastrophic(in reference to their use in wars), but with aerial views they project a different perspective than cameras on the ground.”

photo via artist 

on what the government is doing to address the persistent gentrification aspect of things and uneven distribution of resources, mahama reiterates; “the state which is supposed to protect its citizens becomes a terrorizing figure. failure is eminent and embedded within the system and we constantly tell ourselves that things are working but nothing is really working.”

 

ghanaian traditional drummer to be the first african musician ever to have a u.s. university building named after him

Middletown, Conn.—Wesleyan University.   For the first time ever, a United States university building will be named after a traditional African drummer.  Abraham K. Adzenyah, recruited from the Ghana Dance Ensemble 46 years ago to teach at Wesleyan University, is retiring after training thousands of US music students, many of whom have gone on to teach traditional Ghanaian drumming and dance at other US colleges and universities.
 
American students of Professor Adzenyah have gone on to teach and run Ghanaian drum and dance ensembles at the Berklee College of Music, Brandeis University, The Hartt School of Music, Lehman College, Montclair State University, Mount Holyoke College, Oakland University (Michigan), Princeton University, S.U.N.Y. Binghamton, S.U.N.Y. Stonybrook, Toronto University, Tufts University, University of Alabama, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Yale University, and York University (Toronto). 
 
One of the top rated liberal arts universities in the United States, Wesleyan is known for its commitment to world music and faculty artists.  Mr. Adzenyah was on tour with the Ghana National Dance Ensemble in 1968 when he was heard performing at Madison Square Garden in New York City by the late Dr. Robert E. Brown, one of the originators of Wesleyan’s World Music Program.  Dr. Brown then recruited Mr. Adzenyah to teach traditional Ghanaian drumming at Wesleyan, in what became one of the top world music and ethnomusicology programs in the country.
 
“West African drumming has been one of the most important parts of our Music Department since the beginning of our World Music Program in the 1960s,” said Professor of Music Eric Charry. “And Abraham Adzenyah has been the pillar of the World Music Program, being here for so many decades and training so many of our students. He has been such a valued colleague within our Music Department. He has such breadth and depth of experience, and it’s just a pleasure to have had him around and for him to have offered the kinds of expertise that he does.
 
On Saturday, May 7, 2016 Mr. Adzenyah will be honored with multiple events on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown.  Starting at 4pma retirement ceremony will be held featuring the naming of the Abraham Adzenyah Rehearsal Hall (formerly Rehearsal Hall), located at 60 Wyllys Avenue. 
 
 
Following the building dedication, there will be a free outdoor concert featuring traditional West African drumming, singing, and dancing from 4:30pm to 6pm in the Center for the Arts Courtyard, located at 283 Washington Terrace. The afternoon concert will feature dance-drum ensembles run by Adzenyah’s former students:  Wesleyan University’s West African Drumming and Dance Ensemble, Tufts University’s Kiniwe Ensemble with the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Kekeli African Music and Dance Ensemble, Berklee College of Music’s West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, Montclair State University’s West African Drumming and Dance Ensemble with the Rhythm Monsters, and Ayanda Clarke ’99. The rain location for the outdoor concert is Crowell Concert Hall (located at 50 Wyllys Avenue).
 
The day of events will conclude with an all-night highlife dance party starting at 7:30pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall, located at 55 Wyllys Avenue. The evening concert will feature the Abraham Adzenyah Tribute Band including Abraham Adzenyah MA ’79; David Bindman ’85, MA ’87; Wes Brown ’74; royal hartigan MA ’83, Ph.D. ’86; and Rob Lancefield ’82, MA ’93, Ph.D. ’05 performing highlife and beyond; Samba New York! founded and led by Philip Galinsky Ph.D. ’99, performing Brazilian samba; Okwy Osadebe Highlife Band performing Nigerian highlife; Berklee College of Music’s Afro Pop Ensemble performing African pop; Urban Renewal performing funk, R&B, and West African traditional and fusion music; and Ayanda Clarke ’99. Admission for the evening concert is $6 for Wesleyan students and $15 for all others. Tickets are available online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/boxoffice, by phone at (860) 685-3355, or in person at the Wesleyan University Box Office, located in the Usdan University Center, 45 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown. Tickets may also be purchased at the door beginning one hour prior to the performance, subject to availability. The Center for the Arts accepts cash, checks written to “Wesleyan University”, and all major credit cards. Groups of ten or more may receive a discount – please call (860) 685-3355 for details. No refunds, cancellations, or exchanges.
 
Wesleyan University is also working to raise $300,000 to endow a scholarship in honor of Professor Adzenyah’s legacy at Wesleyan. The Abraham Adzenyah Endowed Wesleyan Scholarship is designated for music students, with financial need, who embody the spirit of Mr. Adzenyah. Gifts in any amount are welcome. For further information about the scholarship, please contact Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations Marcy Herlihy via e-mail at mherlihy@wesleyan.edu or (860) 685-2523. To make a gift in honor of Mr. Adzenyah to support the Abraham Adzenyah Endowed Wesleyan Scholarship, please visit http://give.wesleyan.edu and select the Adzenyah Scholarship as your Giving Priority under “Additional Information.”
 
For more information about these events, please visit http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa/adzenyah.  
 
 
About Abraham Adzenyah
Early in his career, Abraham Kobena Adzenyah studied, performed, and taught drumming in his native Ghana; including five years of formal study in music, dance, and drama at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. He was one of the first artists to be named Master Drummer in the Ghana National Dance Ensemble. On arriving at Wesleyan in 1969, he began to offer courses in West African music, dance, and culture. He received a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Goddard College in 1976, and an M.A. in Music from Wesleyan University in 1979. Equally adept at teaching novices and advanced postgraduates, Mr. Adzenyah always had a magnetic attraction for students, derived from his pairing of commanding knowledge and skills with constant attention to the emotions and spirit inside the music.
 
Throughout his years at Wesleyan, Mr. Adzenyah was a visiting artist and teacher at dozens of workshops, colleges, and conservatories, and has performed all over the world, alone and with eminent musicians like the late Wesleyan Artist in Residence Ed Blackwell, Wesleyan’s John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Emeritus Anthony Braxton, Hugh Masekela, Steve Gadd, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ornette Coleman, Max Roach, Nexus, World Drums, Dave Holland, and Rufus Reid. He has also influenced and inspired students and professional musicians through his recordings and as co-author, with royal hartigan MA ’83, Ph.D. ’86 and the late Wesleyan African dance teacher Freeman Kwadzo Donkor, of “West African Rhythms for Drumset,” a groundbreaking notation and adaptation to trap drums of traditional and contemporary African rhythms. Mr. Adzenyah has been awarded the Afro-Caribbean World Music Symposium Achievement Award and the Percussive Arts Society Award.
 
 
About the Music Department 
The Wesleyan University Music Department provides a unique and pioneering environment for advanced exploration committed to the study, performance, and composition of music from a perspective that recognizes and engages the breadth and diversity of the world’s musics and technologies. As an integral part of one of the nation’s leading liberal arts institutions, the department has enjoyed an international reputation for innovation and excellence, attracting students from around the globe since the inception of its visionary program in World Music four decades ago.
 
Recent annual music festivals in partnership with the Center for the Arts  have brought to campus a diverse array of artists, including Max Roach, Pete Seeger, Zakir Hussain (India), Thomas Mapfumo (Zimbabwe), Boukman Eksperyans (Haiti), Boogsie Sharpe (Trinidad), and Hugh Masekela (South Africa).
 
A recording studio, a computer and experimental music studio, the Center for the Arts media lab and digital video facility, the World Instrument Collection (which includes the David Tudor Collection of electronic musical instruments and instrumentation), and the Scores and Recordings Collection of Olin Library (which includes the World Music Archives) offer many learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
 
For more information about the Music Department, please visit http://www.wesleyan.edu/music/.
 
About the Center for the Arts
Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts exists to catalyze people’s creativity by engaging them in the dynamic work of diverse artists.
 
Three inter-related activities enable the CFA to realize its purpose:
 
  • supporting the research, public productions, and in-studio teaching needs of the departments of Art and Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater;
  • leading inter-disciplinary collaborations and other initiatives that integrate artists into creative curricular and co-curricular initiatives; and
  • organizing powerful encounters between visiting artists and diverse elements of the Wesleyan community, the greater Middletown community, statewide, and regional audiences.
 
The Center for the Arts opened in the fall of 1973, and includes the 400-seat Theater, the 260-seat Ring Family Performing Arts Hall (former CFA Hall), the World Music Hall (a non-Western performance space), the 400-seat Crowell Concert Hall, the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, and classrooms and studios.
 
The Center for the Arts gratefully acknowledges the support of its many generous funders and collaborators, including the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the Connecticut Office of the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New England Foundation for the Arts, as well as media sponsors the Hartford Courant, WESU 88.1FM, WNPR, WSHU, Art New England, and artscope.
 
For more information about Center for the Arts, please call (860) 685-3355, or visit http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa.