A PhotoEssay Series on the events at the CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival
The CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival in 2014 was as fun as it was overwhelming, imaginative and daring. For those who have been part of the festival since its beginning in July 2011,you know people start showing up at noon. Well, suffice to say it was different this year. Maybe something to do with all the energy and expectation built up from last year’s two-day jamfest. By 11:00am on opening day, High Street was packed with curious visitors with the festival turning out over ten thousand people from all over.
John Evans Atta Mills High Street was again closed to vehicular traffic. So the street was crammed with loud music, extreme sports, graffiti murals, performance installations, a food village and a fashion market. The fashion market at Oblatsoobi was one of the busiest spots at the festival. Everyone who came to James Town wanted to take something home as a souvenir for coming to CHALE WOTE. And no one was left disappointed because there were enough Ghana-based and international designers with awe-inspiring T-shirts, African print dresses, bracelets, necklaces, shoes, hats, and other accessories on sale. Some sculptors and designers from Accra’s Art Centre also unveiled some beautiful crafts for patrons.
James Town, the former British Accra province, hosts the festival for the fourth time because it harbours most of Ghana’s pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial history. The theme for this year’s festival, “Death: An Eternal Dream into Limitless Rebirth,” best fits the social rejuvenation of James Town. And so artists participating connected their works to this theme of death and rebirth and the history and spirit of James Town and its people.
Bernard Akoi-Jackson, partially dressed, painted in gold and red with multiple fabric wrappers around his waist, majestically led the Exit Frame collective in a procession from Ussher Fort to Mantse Agbonaa (the forecourt of the king’s palace). The aesthetics and technique of their project borrows the contemporary urban phenomenon of the “pop-up market stall/shop/selling space,” a universal symbol that street entrepreneurs use throughout Accra and most West African cities.
One of the best parts of the festival were how patrons were invested in becoming different characters, dressing in funky fashion and crazy hairstyles, and actively taking part in CHALE WOTE. That’s the whole idea of the CHALE WOTE – to showcase that everyone is an artist with the potential to reimagine and rehabilitate their communities through art. The festival provided young people an opportunity to be who they wanted to be and how they desired to appear to the public.
Crowded audiences were stunned by the lethal bike stunts exhibited on the streets. Once again, Martin “Bike Lord” Abrokwah and the Flat Land Boys crew gave fans an intimate chance to see some Hollywood stunts on the streets of Accra. The bikers flew over human barricades and performed azonto dance moves with their BMX bicycles to an astounded crowd of hundreds enclosing their performance.
The theme of the festival was also well enacted by celebrated fantasy coffin designer, Paa Joe, who installed a gallery coffins in front of Ussher Fort following a melodic and also funeral band procession on the streets. There were even wailing men and women, wearing red and black attire to show they are mourning a dead relative, who led the demonstration. Paa Joe’s procession was so musically executed, arresting the attention of many witnesses who felt compelled to join. Death = Life.