I stand on the narrow ledge of pavement and I’m highly aware of the loud late afternoon traffic with trotro’s (mini bus taxis) and cars hurtling past, all a little too close for comfort. I run my hands along these pieces of warped metal and looking up, try to take in this colourful piece in front of me. A tiny part of this elongated artwork that has been erected on a wall on the side of an exit road of a very busy ‘round about’. I’m fascinated by the different textures, shapes and details on it, it is unusually wonderful with its bumpy tactile quality and has been painted in happy bold colours.
The tiny metal hoops used to join the metal pieces together are so miniscule compared to the scale of this massive piece. I wonder how long it takes the artist to insert them?…..how many hundreds of hoops he has used in this piece?….. how he handles all this stiff metal and merges and blends it together? It makes me think of a designer leather bag I saw recently by South African brand Missibaba with various shapes of dyed leather stitched together, but this has irregular pieces jutting out, joined to other pieces by these copper coloured loops. There must be hundreds of them. They remind me of the small hoop sleeper earrings I used to wear when I first had my ears pierced as a tween!
After hearing that a new metal artwork had been installed I took a walk with our kids to the nearby Ako Adjei interchange which is only fifteen minutes by foot from our home in Accra and had the above experience with this long stretched out metal piece of art.
After our first visit to this piece I reached out to the Ghanaian artist Tei Huagie, who created this piece, on Instagram and after scrolling through some of his previous photos some lovely synchronicities emerged – I discovered that he is also the mastermind (and hands) of the incredible strip quilt/patchwork African wax piece that I’m standing in front of in the cover photo of my blog. That photo was taken when my friend Lotte and I went to the ‘Wax Fest’ in 2019 which was a lovely event that showcased everything to do with African wax print textiles and we were so taken by these sheets of various red and blue fabrics pieced together.
Then I realised that Tai also created a 3D metal sculpture that I was intrigued by at the Chale Wote 2019 festival when we went with our dear friends Anna and Emil who are now living in Zurich. I had never seen anything like this metal work before and wondered how it was made!
Tei works in many different mediums and also does Acrylic paintings which can be seen on his Instagram. At the time of me chatting to him he was still to add the final 50 metres to the 30 metres that we had seen that day, making the soon to be finished artwork an impressive 80 metre piece hanging on the road wall. He told me that it had taken him 3 months to make the initial 30 metres. The mediums he uses are aluminium metal sheets, copper wires and metallic spray paint. There are many work in progress photos and videos on his Instagram of this metal piece being made by himself and ‘his sons’, who he frequently credits for their contributions and hard work. During the Covid lockdown in Ghana work went on as usual for them and it was all hands on deck to finish the piece. In some shots they are sitting on scaffolding under umbrellas to shield them from the hot equatorial sun.
When a few weeks ago Tei and his helpers added the final 50 metres we took a slow family walk on a quiet Sunday afternoon and the traffic was far calmer this time, allowing us to take our time to look closely at the piece. After weeks of feeling unwell from Covid, it was our first time out and this stroll felt extra special after being cooped up at home. We were still feeling rather fragile and weak from being sick and so enjoyed the comforting embrace and shade of the bent and buckled Neem trees again, that so beautifully shelter our street.
Tai told me a bit about the process of his art – he collects old and used aluminium roof sheets, some dating back to the colonial times in Ghana (Ghana gained its independence in 1957 from British rule), and turns them into art works. “These are still strong to serve a purpose” he says.
The title of this roadside piece is “National Inspiration” and the work was commissioned by the Creative Art Council of Ghana through the Chale Wote Street art Festival secretariat. Tai explains that the main sentiment of the work is to inspire his fellow Ghanaian citizens and all persons in the world to know that big dreams can become a reality, however long the journey they can be achieved. “It is a piece that will strengthen you to keep going on your journey or future ambition any time you see it” he says. Looking at the footprints on the work I can see how it literally represents a journey too. The second instalment has three 3D faces as well as optimistic words like ‘work hard’, ‘love all’, ‘hate not’ and ‘lets jaw jaw not war war’.
Some of you may have seen the photos I posted on social media back in March just before the Ghana lockdown, when this previously grey and dark Ako Adjei interchange which consists of a turning circle and undercover areas where pedestrians can walk, and columns holding it all up, were transformed into a place of colour and beauty by several other talented artists. The funding for these artworks came from multiple sources, one of them being the Rotary Club of Ghana. It was really wonderful watching these pieces being created and birthed. Every time I would drive past there would be groups of artists clustered around what were previously bland concrete walls, some were sculpting 3D faces and bodies with their hands, others were sitting high on scaffolding, paintbrushes in hand adding delicate life-like features to figures that were coming to life. Artists were standing spray painting brilliant colours onto the large walls then taking a step back, heads tilted, checking themselves and making sure that their designs and marks aligned with their vision, that was fast becoming a reality for all living in Accra to admire and see.
I came home from a dinner at 1am one morning and there several artists were, their bodies lit up by the fluorescent artificial night light under the enclosure, working on the concrete piece, patiently giving this material the time it needs to dry and harden. The process was fascinating and I have some of that footage in my Instagram archived stories if you would like to see under ‘Mural Making’.
The end results are incredibly striking depictions of Ghanaian, and neighbouring Beninese and Togolese cultures in a variety of artistic styles. Along one wall men and women carry large bowls of libation on their heads as you see at local festivals here. Sticks, palm fronds and pieces of grass jut out from large silver bowls, the weight of which can be judged from the strained expressions on the faces of the people carrying them. At time they are in awkward positions showing the ‘possession’ by the spirits that is taking place. (To read more about this see my post about the Jamestown Twins Festival).
On another strip of long wall there is what looks like an other-worldy space scene in neon pinks, emerald greens and purples and when I took the photo below of my son and daughter looking at it and posted it on Instagram I felt it so accurately described how many of us have felt looking onto the world this year – it feels unrecognisable and utterly bizarre at times with the Covid 19 virus impacting so heavily on all spheres of life.
Despite warnings to the public about punishments that would be incurred should the artworks be defaced, for a while there were stubborn people who were writing all over the red of this large piece below with religious inscriptions, and every few weeks these would have to be painted over but perhaps they were finally caught as I’m pleased to say that for many weeks now we haven’t seen any of this writing on the glorious big base of Coca-Cola logo colour.
The surrounding columns have been covered with depictions of ceremonial Voodoo cape coverings from Benin like this one photographed by David Stanley and are painted in neon colours with fabulous detail and motifs. When you stand looking onto them the bright colours of the 3D sculpture seems to be perfectly framed in between them in the distance.
The scale of these artworks is also what makes them so special and unique. A women seems to be effortlessly summoning a massive wave of the nearby Atlantic ocean with her hands, a huge colourful fishing boat takes up the width another wall and the way the artists have handled seamlessly painting across many individual concrete pieces like those of a large jigsaw puzzle is impressive!
Along with the bold African wax fabrics you see everyone wearing here, these artworks really brighten up the Accra environment. It all started with this mural in Airport area about a year ago that was painted on the side of one of the bridges. Popular motifs that you see on wax fabric have been included and are instantly recognisable.
Then this magnificent woman appeared on the wall outside of the Acrilex art and stationary store in Osu after some graffiti artistis worked their magic for a few days. She is an exquisite sight to behold with her earrings containing the Accra city scape, her colourful headwrap and all-knowing content eyes.
Currently there are amazing new huge murals being worked on in Airport area showing a royal African family with chiefs and queen mothers included, and we enjoyed seeing these in the making recently. There is also one of a peacock although it was impossible to photograph the whole thing driving past! The only pity is that you really need to try to drive slowly past these works of art, which is virtually impossible to do on a highway or in a round-about here, where they are situated, so if there is opportunity to take a walk so that you can enjoy and explore all of their glorious details that would be best.
A few weeks ago Lotte who started the Ghana Food Movement came back from a morning with Chef Elijah Amoo Addo who for many years has fed the poor and vulnerable in Accra with his organisation called Food for All Africa. They prepare daily meals from leftovers from supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and farms and then hand them out to those in need. When showing me photos of what the morning involved she had also taken some pictures of nearby murals and I was again blown away by the artistic talent in this city and so happy that many of us can enjoy this beauty.
Many magnificently adorned walls wait to be discovered in Accra – my eyes are wide open hoping to find some more, I hope yours are too!
*All photos used in my posts are taken by me unless otherwise credited. Please do not use them without permission.