CHALE WOTE 2016: James Town on Wheels

The last two days of CHALE WOTE 2016, in particular, arrested Accra’s attention. James Town became a giant electro-magnet that brought together throngs of art lovers to chill and appreciate art, design and music.. One thing that intrigued me was how quite functional objects – a saloon car, a boneshaker (Old Mommy Truck from 1970’s public transport system)  and a Trotro (Public Transport Bus)  were adapted for new purposes by artists at the festival.

Visual artist and graphic designer Citizins‘ stand featured the custom graffiti hood of a saloon car. It’s not a surprising move from Citizins, who also participated in last year’s festival, to explore alternative canvasses. He also completed a series of live portraits at his mobile studio. I take consolation in a future that will see Ghanaian visual art and graffiti grow – not just on walls – but newer and more exciting spaces like this painted window by Moh Awudu, or Citizins’ car.

Art by Citizins

Art by Citizins. Photo via Instagram.

Then there was this cool Nisaf pop-up shop selling t-shirts out of a boneshaker – the relic that once represented public transport in the country. Selling out of this old school vehicle was distinct and bold. I’m sure they’ve won new fans who can appreciate their innovative throwback style. While I admire their tenacity, the slogan of “British Accra” – a popular reference to James Town – is demeaning and colonizing. Let’s embrace who we are!

Nisaf Boneshaker. Photo Credit: Nii Kotei

The ultimate killer, for me however was Trotro Vibes. Here is a simple idea that answers one question – what’s a cool way to make poetry accessible to as many people from diverse backgrounds as possible? Spoken-word poetry in an elaborately painted Trotro (Public transport) that is – poetry that also serves as a compelling art installation. Trotro Vibes, according to the organizers is “a literacy campaign in Trotro Buses (public transport) which uses poetry and live acoustic music as a tool for promoting reading (digital reading) in Ghana.

Trotro Vibes

Trotro Vibes in front of Brazil House

I imagine that’s where the inspiration for Trotro Vibes sprang from. Trotro Vibes at CHALE WOTE 2016 was a bus, decked out by US artist James Shield’s spray cans, loaded up with a bunch of poets kicking word game. The only critique I have is that the representation of women (as poets and participants) was quite limited. How do we make artistic spaces more inclusive of women?

James Shields giving the Trotro a makeover. Photo Credit: Nii Kotei

James Shields giving the Trotro a vibely makeover. Photo Credit: Nii Kotei

After the festival, my interpretation of Spirit Robot has been reinforced. I think of it as a manifestation, physical or otherwise (ROBOT) of our creativity as well as an awareness and power from an extra-terrestrial plane connecting with our ability to imagine (SPIRIT). I can’t help but make a connection between this interpretation and seeing James Town on wheels at CHALE WOTE 2016 (through the saloon car, boneshaker and trotro). All the artists conceived a fascinating re-imagining of everyday objects for new purposes.

It’s great how CHALE WOTE has continually encouraged out-of-the-box thinking, creativity and innovation, and most importantly, a DIY belief, awareness and practice, where we not only think about new possibilities but actually make them happen.


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