Although miles apart, ELVIS NSIAH of Ghana and LISA E. HARRIS from the U.S., draw inspiration from and share similar sentiments about space. This reflects boldly in their work – Nsiah’s depictions of housing deficiencies through reclaimed object installations, and Harris’ documentary style films, one which reflects the realities of displaced youth in Houston’s Third Ward.
At the core of both artists’ work are the pinching effects of gentrification on a people.
Elvis, a recent graduate from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), creates installations from reclaimed cardboard, corroded metals and plastic. He blend objects from specific states of uncertainty into a world of three-dimensional structures that question past, present and future societies in relation to the existence of slum spaces in urban dwellings.
Weaving sound, installation, food and performance, among other mediums, Lisa is recognized by the Huffington Post as “one of fourteen artists who are transforming the future of opera”. She is also a performer-composer from Houston, Texas. According to Lisa, her works draw from a practice of ”ceremony, ritual, community organizing and natural healing”. Through her mixed-media work, she observes “themes of boundaries, giving voice to space, landscape, soundscape, improvisation, and nature as the living stage.”
Continuing to describe her creative process, she says:
I specialize in creating original theories involving experimental composition, vocal and human performance, film, sound art and installation, that consider the energetic relationships between body, spirit, land, and space. If these experiences are healing in some way, all the better.
Elvis’ work at this year’s festival titled, Stop Work, Produce Permit, is a whimsical play on the infamous red graffiti on many buildings under construction across the city. This is reminiscent of Jason Nico-Annan’s mural from CHALE WOTE 2013.
Nsiah’s work examines “ownership, belonging and power, and the relationship between current housing policies and political forces.”
Describing his project’s resonance with the Spirit Robot theme, he shares:
The exhibition connects in terms of the how robot systems operate. As the system of Spirit Robot become autonomous, it relates to the exploration of ‘slum spaces’. These spaces are structured to have a system of power and control although human intervention breaks boundaries in site-specific ways and also through the autonomous nature of space.
Elvis’ perspective merges into Harris’ which recognizes the fast erasure of not just homes, but memories, stories and cultures, in favor of unusually expensive and inaccessible high-rise condos and cars, or as she puts it, a “constant struggle between the human heart and the machine”. Their work pokes at the idea of a system that only knows right when it’s self-serving, a system aloof from it’s people’s plights and also a people so disconnected and disillusioned by it all that they’d rather do things their own way. Her film, Children of the Lost, probes the value of resisting dominant systems, particularly those deemed to be advanced, modern or technological (even as they can also be quite destructive).
Both artists’ work easily remind me of the persistent practice in Ghana of bulldozing homes in the name of clearing waterways. We are embedded in a system that tears down historical landmarks like the SeaView Hotel in James Town (Accra’s oldest hotel) in favor of ruins. We sit in the wake of not knowing who we are and what we can do.
You can catch Elvis Nsiah’s housing discourse, Stop Work, Produce Permit on the Akamanjen Street, the street opposite the Ghana Customs building on High Street.
Lisa E. Harris’ film and performance, Children of the Lost, screens at THE LABS on Friday, August 19th @ Untamed Empire (North Ridge, Accra) from 5:30 – 6pm and again at Brazil House on Sunday, August 21st from 2-2:30pm.
By KADI YAO TAY