A CHALE WOTE Meditation on James Fort

THIS STROLLING GOATS edition takes place at different sites connecting James Town including Brazil House, Franklin House and James Fort. These historic spaces will also feature exhibitions and performances during CHALE WOTE 2017. This is a chance to get an inside look at where the action will be. Click the arrows on the images above to unfold the full gallery.

 

this was my first time setting foot on the premises of the now-almost-derelict james fort prison. (ha! prison – such a benign descriptor for this edifice.) my first utterance here – which was made barely a minute upon entering – was a worded sigh. ei, things have gone on in this world oo – to which a colleague gave a rather humorous retort. unlike some of my other colleagues, i honestly did not feel noticeably different. i did however, smell different. a smell which i cannot describe; but of which i can say that my olfactory organs – if i may speak for them – found uncomfortable, unpleasant.

then we proceeded…..into the yard; and here were the cells, sorry, dungeons. (i was, then – and still am, now – unable to regard this space as a mere prison. to divorce it from its history as a site where, for too long a time, such an unbelievably horrendous inhuman activity as slaveholding was undertaken. and it is in light of this fact that i hold this view: it takes an incalculable level of soul-mutilation for africans to later maintain and manage this place – overseeing it as a place for the imprisonment of african people, as was done up until as recently as a decade ago. but then again, there isn’t that much difference, perhaps, between enslavement and imprisonment?)

 

Martin Toloku is a sculptor who premieres his work this year at CHALE WOTE 2017.

back to the yard and the dungeons: so, our (unofficial?) guide – whose words i’d swiftly resolved would be much safer taken with a pinch of salt, walked us to a dungeon he said was the one in which Kwame Nkrumah was imprisoned. right upon entering the suffocating hole, my eyes roved the room’s corners; eager to speculate as to which one was that extra-unlucky corner that served as the latrine; housing the shit bucket into which Nkrumah and his dungeonmates took shits after eating – right in the dungeon! – their meagre, stomach-upsetting prison food.

but. yes, Nkrumah, but what about the many others who were also incarcerated here? it was this question that burned on my mind as i briefly stole myself away from the rest of the squad to go on my fake-deep, isolating perusal of one or two other dungeons. my thought waves were crashing: who were these other imprisoned folk? for what crime(s) were they brought here and for how long were they holed up in here? were they actually criminals? were they really guilty? did they eventually go home? to loved ones? or did they die in here – in these cruel caves, or at the gallows; their breath snuffed out by the hanger’s rope?

on the wall in one of the dungeons, there was a mouldering newspaper that had peeled halfway. the headline reported something of a certain man claiming to have had no knowledge of a woman. i wondered what the backstory was. who had pasted it? – an inmate? most likely but when? why? had they known the gist of the story? had they laughed out loud at the man’s claim? and speaking of which, what did each of these inmates think…..of women?

 

Fyah Women of Accra: Activists, Artists, Writers, and Cultural Producers. (l to r.) Rita Nketiah, Maku Azu, Sionne Rameah Neely, Suga, Maaj and Ria Boss.

“eat what you get” was painted on the door of the next dungeon; and on the one after it, “cry for freedom – Kwame Nkrumah says so.” and here, it took a great deal of self restraint to not launch into an intellectual/philosophical debate with myself on whether freedom is something that should be cried for, or better, whether it’s any useful – or potent – to cry for freedom.

memory. the word quite sums up my first time experience at james fort; and with memory comes these two words: forgetting and remembering. in regards to the narrative and history of the slave trade, ghana – africa, generally – has chosen the former.

now, three things – one: silence and forgetting beget each other. two: i’ve only recently read that in ancient egyptian culture, forgetting was philosophised as a form of death. three: this, the last quartrain of Kwesi Brew’s poem, Rememberance, comes to my mind:

 

Let rememberance be a guide and

 

A constant partner

 

In their lives day and night

 

For rememberance shall make them whole.

which i wish we would heed, us – and our societies – who intend to get off those suicidal paths of forgetting and fragmentation.

 

Be sure to catch all the exhibitions, performances and extreme sports happening at James Fort, Light House area, Ussher Fort, James Town Police Station area and Brazil House plus more during the seventh annual CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival.

 

Ari is a young filmmaker and part of the CHALE WOTE film crew documenting this year’s festival.

 

 

Story by Moshood Balogun

Photos by Mantse Aryeequaye + Josephine Kuuire + Nii Nikoi Kotei

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