“It is really amazing how much Ghanaian art and how many Ghanaian artists are being represented and exhibited around the world right now,” says Richmond Orlando Mensah, the founding director of creative studio and platform Manju Journal, which celebrates pan-African creativity. He acknowledges there might be a bit of bias involved – after all, he’s based in Accra. “But I genuinely feel that the Ghanaian art scene is Africa’s most vibrant and preeminent.”
Created in collaboration with publisher Twentyfour Thirtysix, Mensah’s new book, Voices, showcases Ghana’s artistic talent through over 80 interviews with filmmakers, photographers, curators, gallerists, and beyond.
“We are fundamentally a very creative and expressive culture. That’s been the case for hundreds of years, now it’s just most obvious in terms of the contemporary art world,” Mensah tells us. There is of course a sense that international audiences have only just woken up to this, something Paul Ninson, the founder of the photography organisation Dikan Center in Accra, addresses in the book’s afterword.
Mensah says the strength and resilience of the creative scene is owed to the “constellation of people who are willing to put the work in, and who are passionate and dedicated enough to it. However, challenges persist, and continued and collective efforts are still needed to support and promote the arts scene in Ghana.” Books such as this form a crucial part of that drive.
Mensah says that Voices was born out of the parallel movements happening within Ghana and its diaspora in other parts of the world, which the team at Twentyfour Thirtysix began to see a few years ago. “During lockdown, they had noticed how many creatives and artists they followed on social media posted the Ghanaian flag in their bio,” explains Mensah, “and then also how many Ghanaians were leading London’s creative scene”, including British Vogue’s Edward Enninful, fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, and art curator Ekow Eshun, who contributes a foreword to the book.
There were so many creatives, in fact, that the team actually found that “the scope felt daunting”, so they decided early on to focus just on visual arts. “We knew it’s possible to make great books on the country’s fashion and music scenes but we didn’t want to spread the book’s editorial too thin,” Mensah explains. “Also at the moment Ghana’s art is really having its moment internationally and that is something worth celebrating and shouting about.”
The book’s cover features an original photograph shot for the occasion by Accra-based imagemaker Jude Lartey, which features creative direction by Kusi Kubi – who joined Manju Journal as fashion director in 2020 – and art direction by Mensah. The cover photo needed to capture the “essence” of Voices, “which meant to us ‘passing knowledge from one generation to another’,” Mensah explains. The cracked earth beneath the models was chosen as a reference to ceramicists who use clay in their work.
Voices is designed to be more than a resource, but a symbolic meeting point for artists, whether that’s between creatives living in Ghana and those within its diaspora, or between creatives of different generations. Interviews with artists of all ages sit next to one another in the book, where they readily mention those who came before and those who came after – something Mensah himself was interested to see.
“We were mindful to feature a diverse selection of artists, from newly graduated painters to the wonderful 94-year-old photographer James Barnor and pioneer artists like Ablade Glover,” Mensah says. “And not just painters and photographers – it was important to acknowledge the great variety of visual artists in Ghana and the diaspora including textile designers, ceramicists, sculptors, and filmmakers.
“We really want this book to serve as a source of inspiration to generations to come and an avenue for others to explore the broad range of visual arts in Ghana and most importantly in Africa.”