Street Art in Accra Deep Dives into History & Mythology.

Opening view of Dzen Sane mural at Ako Adjei interchange in Accra

Dzen Sane (Ga language- loosely translated as  Matters of the World) mural is a pleasant reprieve from the usual sightings of promotional posters that confront you at any given interchange or public wall in Accra. Additionally, it grants the viewer a front row seat to the annual Haajin Yele Yeli (Yam Festival of Twins of the Ga-Dangme of Ghana). The art piece not only beautifies the city while giving residents and passersby a sense of pride in calling this city their own.

The detailed scene is loaded with culture and a great deal of symbolism as depicted within the scene illustrated on the walls of the interchange. Carefully drawn with great attention to detail and vibrant colours, the three dimensional-like features of the mural such as the Ga Samai (sacred symbols that represent the dominant social realm and knowledge systems of the Ga-Dangme) seem to spring off the wall. The juxtaposition between the usual sight of posters in comparison to the Dzen Sane mural by Afuabe (an Accra based art collective) is not lost on the local spectator. From the pure water seller to the commuter, to students and government workers, this piece of public art elicits a response as it demands to be seen.

Dzen Sane conjures memories for some and questions for others but for all, it’s surely a sight to behold. Students stop by to ask questions and droves of Trotro passengers, cyclists and chauffeured dignitaries can all be seen through their windows as necks, stretch, twist and turn to capture the panoramic vision made possible by the Art for All initiative.

Spotlighting Ghanaian Culture

As oral tradition slowly becomes an overlooked form of archiving history , art is another medium through which valuable ancestral knowledge is passed down. Peeling back the facade of Accra to reveal it’s true identity and culture, Dzen Sane is an ode to Ga-Dangme culture, one that illustrates a story of community, restoration and ancestral communion. The mural masterfully examines masquerade culture while showcasing a segment of Ga-Dangme cultural rites of passage.

Time and transitional memory

Egungun meets Ankos : a fusion of Masquerade costumes from Benin & Western Ghana

The mural stimulates both thought and discourse around what we know and the possibility of what is. Art like that of Dzen Sane, is quite uncommon in Accra and in the fashion in which it utilizes various mediums and public spaces to offer a glimpse into Ga-Dangme culture. Members of the Art for All Initiative, Chale Wote, Afuabe (art collective) embark on their tenth edition of ensuring treasured knowledge & historical figures remain visible. This piece perfectly commemorates a decade of making sure heros do not go unsung and that life as we know it does not go unexamined.

As commuters, passersby and art enthusiasts interact with the art, they happen upon a poignant scene, the meeting of the two realms: the living realm and the ancestral realm. The vehicle connecting to two aforementioned realms is the procession of the ritual Sese Bumor ( a cleansing ritual for families and communities during the Twins Yam Festival).

The ocean meets the cosmos

The Sese is poured with gusto from the corner of Ring Road, it then flows into the next galaxy as skilfully portrayed on the walls along Liberation road. As the two scenes merge the ancestors are revealed in masquerade form as they too form a procession aligning with the ritual Sese procession of the human realm, thus connecting the living and living ancestors. The mural further examines two masquerade styles, as it explores the modes of communion between ancestors and living descendants .

Ga-Dangme mythical imagination

The raffia clad masquerades often appear throughout coastal West African celebrations and is a symbol of ancestral connection, as is the regalia of the particular masquerade seen on the opposing pillars of the Dzen Sane mural.
Alongside the intersection of Ring and Liberation Roads and nestled between The Royal Netherlands Embassy and The Ghana Immigration Service, the Ako Adjei interchange once changed the way we commute and is now changing the way we think about art and its accessibility. Coincidentally, the art piece transports the onlooker as if to lead them into a new dimension, one they’ve never considered existed and now one whose existence they won’t soon forget.

The location of this piece is also symbolic considering the fact that Greater Accra is the ancestral land of the Ga-Dangme. Although they make up over half of Accra’s population, the Ga Samai (traditional symbols) and inscriptions have not been popularised in the Ghanaian spaces, popular culture and are notably absent in Accra. Much like Adinkra symbols, Ga Samai mirror the social world and hold meaning about the lives and hopes of its people, and the mural seamlessly blends these symbols of life into the visual thread of the depicted festival, further layering the already symbolic mural.

Ako Adjei interchange in Accra now an open air street art gallery

Cleansing rituals of memory

Art for All

The Art for All initiative, spearheaded by The Creative Arts Council (CAC), an organisation under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture collaborates with Accra [Dot] Alt and Afuabe Collective to bring culture to the masses through art. This collaborative effort plays a key role in transforming the landmark into a monument of Ghanaian culture. Starting with the kaleidoscopic mural gracing the wall of a once unassuming interchange giving it a new story, a story that demands to be heard.

This initiative has created a sustainable artistic monument to honor the traditions of the Ghanaian people, giving the public, commuters and visitors alike now not only access to art, but access to a piece of Ghanaian history never explored on such a public platform. During Chale Wote as well as other Ga-Dangme festivals and celebrations there is usually a display of the various facets of the culture. Precessions of masquerades, kings flagged by their courtiers among other symbolic pageantry. These sights and symbols being portrayed on such a public platform exalts Ghanaian culture in a way that displays the culture in its most authentic form, through artistic expression in a way that the Ga-Dangme and all people appreciate.

Symbol communication and mythical imagination

Public Reaction

As members of the public interact with and appreciate the mural, concern is raised regarding vandalism of public spaces namely this new monument of Ghanaian culture. Numerous stakeholders have throughout the years made attempts to beautify Accra, some have gone as far as taking to painting the public spaces in the patriotic red gold green to curb the indiscriminate posting of promotional materials to avail.

True to its name, Dzen Sane appeals to the “Matters of the World” has consequently emboldened a community of art defending vigilantes who have risen to the occasion to defend the art against vandals who may post bills and promotional adverts on the art. Across social media the same question arises, ”Will our people be disciplined enough not to deface it? #Accra”, asks Kwame Gyan, questioning it’s longevity. The responses to this question elicits both scepticism and optimism as the community shares its thoughts on the matter. While it has led to some promising acts of vigilantism, others suggest strict fines for organisations who post bills on the wall, each solution as clever as the last, one thing is certain, a culture of art appreciation is being fostered in Accra. This monumental exhibition brought to life by the collaborative efforts and contributions of Accra [Dot] Alt, Afuabe and The Creative Arts Council has stimulated appreciation for art, cultural diversity and community.

Muhasim Hamza Gywah of Afuabe touching up a masquerade mural

Historians

If Dzen Sane is the lesson then Afuabe are the modern day scribes, charged with the honor of sharing these lessons of community and culture with the world.
Though many connect with the art in many ways, as Ghanaians and as artists, the Afuabe collective are symbolically bound to it. Artist Hamid Nii Nortey, a Ga, feels immense pride, “to be working on this piece in public”, as he revels in having a platform to contribute to and showcase his beliefs and culture to other people, especially other ethnic groups in Ghana as a cultural exchange of beliefs and customs.

Nortey also hopes that the display of culture through art will also start a conversation among his fellow Ga people, specifically those of whom are not as connected to or understand this part of their culture. Dzen Sane is not only an ode to the Ga-Dangme, it is also a lesson on the often neglected parts of Ghanaian culture. Nortey cites the importance of knowing one’s roots and his being from a royal home as a vital connection to the work; for “aside from what you know from school, you need to know some things from home” Nortey notes, as spiritual duality “equals freedom.” While some speak their truths through the art, for others truth was revealed through the process of creating Dzen Sane.

Sacred art of the Ga-Dangbe are linked to masquerade mythtology.

Non-Ga lifelong artist Kamal’s perspective on the very understanding of Ga-Dangme culture has changed since starting on this project. He went from believing the misconceptions of idol worship to understanding the scene to which he is contributing as a celebration and “back and forth” communion between ancestors and descendants, one that adds value and “expresses love, joy and renewal” all the while strengthening national and familial ties. Coming from a strong religious background he is happy to be able to contribute to celebrating the Ga culture and spirituality now that he is equipped with a deeper understanding and is especially proud to create cultural diversity, which in his opinion overshadows everything. Kamal’s hopes mirror those of the masses, that projects like this one will be replicated throughout the country for people to get a better understanding of what Ghana as a whole has to offer.

Spaces like these “transform, illuminate and empower” our mindsets and attitudes about nature and culture, he said. As he looks forward to contributing to more future projects, he believes the impact will transform Accra into the number one city for art in West Africa. He hopes to illuminate cultures across the country as far as the Northern Region in hopes to learn more about culture and affect how it is represented in mainstream culture. Ngminvielu Kuuire was part of the co-creator team for the mural and for her, Dzen Sane has become a point of departure for imagining ideas of being through which communal memories are transmitted. Nico Wayo, George Amui and Hamza Gyiwah of Afuabe speak of the mural in different ways. What they each acknowledge is the impact Ga-Dangme mythical imagination has had on their perceptions of the world.

Ga Samai – a language and philosophy resource

200 metre metal sculpture that imagines our complex social order.

With each project they undertake, Afuabe artists contribute to the education of those who come into contact with the art, virtually and physically. “There are a lot of stories to be told and even more to be learned,” he mentioned. Graffiti artist and member of the Afuabe Collective, Thomas ‘Kali’ Appiah recalls. “There is a hidden culture that we need to know, namely those of the Ga-Dangme who may not be privy to this cultural knowledge shared in Dzen Sane. It is for these people whom this art is crucial, for it holds their future, their ancestry and their culture”.

Dzen Sane is a culture shift that brings with it a new way of thinking about what it truly means to be Ghanaian in all its facets. One thing is for sure, the public is accepting of this new directive by The Creative Arts Council and are looking forward to interacting with more art in the future.

Photos by Gloria Omari

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