Opinion

HIDDEN TREASURE! Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in Tamale

By Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo

I chanced upon an article on www.sanatuzambang.info about one Ibrahim Mahama dragging six aircraft through the streets of Tamale. The article got my attention and what I read blew my mind so I had to drop everything and pen this instead.

The story of the aircraft was indeed factual and it was for an art exhibition in Tamale at the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA). The SCCA is an artist-run project space, exhibition and research hub, cultural repository and artists’ residency.

It is an initiative of Ghanaian artist, Ibrahim Mahama, as a contribution to the development and expansion of the contemporary art scene in Ghana. Affiliated to BlaxTARLINES Kumasi and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST).

The Centre is operated by committed, dedicated and generous persons who produce critical discourse that will eventually be disseminated through exhibitions, publications and allied activities.

SCCA is dedicated to art and cultural practices which emerged in the 20th Century to inspire generations of artists and thinkers in the 21st Century and beyond.

Ibrahim Mahama

Ibrahim Mahama – the artist

On first seeing the name Ibrahim Mahama, the popular businessman and brother to the former President of Ghana, John Mahama came to mind, but my curiosity urged me to look further and voila – it turned out to be a different Mahama; a young, exuberant and enterprising man.

Ibrahim Mahama is a young Ghanaian artist whose work has traveled the world – showcased at some of the world’s biggest art exhibitions. He is tagged as the most famous African artist under the age of 40!

His work was shown during the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale in Italy: All The World’s Futures curated by Okwui Enwezor in 2015.

His solo shows include: Material Effects, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, at Michigan State University, USA (2015), Civil Occupation, Ellis King, in Dublin, Ireland (2014); Factory Machines and Trucks, Kumasi, Ghana (2013) and Cannon Wax, Jamestown, Accra, Ghana (2013).

He has exhibited at various locations in and around Kumasi as well as Accra.

Other recent shows include: Edson Chagas / Ibrahim Mahama, Apalazzo Gallery, Brescia, Italy (2015); Broken English, Tyburn Gallery, London, UK (2015); Pangaea II New Art from Africa and Latin America, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2015); Material Effects and Silence between the Lines: Anagrams of emancipated Futures, KNUST, Jackson, Contemporary Art Centre, Ghana (2015).

He was born in Tamale, Ghana in 1987 where he currently lives and works and obtained a MFA in Painting and Sculpture in 2013 and a BFA in Painting in 2010 from KNUST.

The legend of Kofi Dawson

Ibrahim Mahama with the legend

Kofi Dawson is a legendary Ghanaian modernist who coined the term ‘Afro-Journalism’ to describe his socially-committed art practice. He was born in the Gold Coast on November 8, 1940 in Takoradi.

He had initially entered KNUST, then known as Kumasi College of Technology (KCT) 2, in 1960 for a diploma in Civil Engineering. He abandoned this direction in 1962 and joined the teacher-training Diploma in Fine Art (DFA) class.

In March 2019, the SCAA inaugurated its space with the exhibition: “Galle Winston Kofi Dawson: In Pursuit of something ‘Beautiful’, perhaps…” which was curated by Bernard Akoi-Jackson.

Kofi Dawson’s life and work effectively condense an attitude of tenacity, characteristic of a modernist ethos, and an openness to uncertainty that drives contemporary life.

Despite his potentially gigantic stature in the Ghanaian context and the fact that he has participated in a tall list of local and international workshops, seminars, residencies and exhibitions across the West African region and elsewhere, he has remained, to quite a large extent, very independent of the international art world.

This can be attributed in part, to the dearth of a robust institutional support system for (Contemporary) art in Ghana. Interestingly, he has been celebrated by neighbouring African country, Nigeria, where he met the young Ibrahim Mahama.

Celebration of art

In Ghana, art is regarded as a lesser known craft in the creative industry. It gets less mention, less publicity and less support!

The elevation of art via Ibrahim Mahama and the SCAA is simply uplifting and empowering – especially when it was done with no governmental aid or whatsoever.

What is even more inspiring is the fact that the place is not just for art exhibition. It also presents varied forms of workshops for students across the Northern Region.

The workshops are about creating an exciting learning experience for basic and primary students. They focus on merging different methods of learning which are borrowed from informal and educational activities such as play, and a loosened formal structure of a classroom.

The learning, as a fun approach, aims to encourage school kids to translate ideas into visual expressions by exploring the medium of painting and sculpture.

The presentation of hope to the kids via the arts in the Northern Region is a delightful tale that needs more projection and support.

The choice of Tamale

There’s no denying the fact that Accra, the capital of the country, is the hub for fledgling and established businesses and it takes guts to actually situate any form of enterprise outside that region – and clearly, Ibrahim has guts and a vision.

The enthusiasm that started SCCA was the founder’s aversion for apathy in people’s attitudes to establishing businesses in the Northern part of the country and watching them flourish.

According to him, one of the things he despised while growing up was that many people wanted to leave Tamale and go settle in Accra because they felt things were already established and they could do good business there. However, his conviction is that businesses can be set up and blossom in the North too.

With support from his dad and Kofi Dawson, a discussion that started in 2013 culminated in the establishment of the Art Complex which was officially opened on May 27, 2018 with the spotlight on Kofi Dawson, whose works were exhibited – deservedly.

But there’s more!

Aside celebrating artists, the Centre will also honour musicians, other creative persons and architects, as well as intellectuals that have legacies in their respective fields of endeavour.

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