The Ghanaian-American Artist Serving to Ghana Reclaim Its Royal Historical past –

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Trendy historical past has most frequently been written by way of the Western gaze and, with that energy, comes the power to manage and form narratives.

For Africans particularly, this gaze has distorted perceptions of the continent’s various historic experiences and did not correctly replicate Africans’ true tales. A brand new technology of Africans, nonetheless, are taking possession of their international locations’ histories and, in impact, serving to reclaim their narratives.

Rita Mawuena Benissan, a Ghanaian-American interdisciplinary artist, has been on the forefront of this drive. In 2020, Benissan based Si Hene, an award-winning non-profit basis accumulating and preserving archives telling tales about Ghana’s chieftaincy and conventional tradition, creating consciousness round its royal historical past, and making it accessible globally through digital media.

The nonprofit’s title means “Enstoolment” in Ghana’s Akan language, referring to the method of elevating a chief to energy in lots of African ethnic teams.

Benissan’s work has been exhibited on the 2022 La Biennale De Dakar, 2021 Afrochella Competition, and EFIE: Museum as Residence, a gaggle museum exhibition at Dortmund U in Germany in 2021.

ARTnews spoke to Benissan about Si Hene and fundraising to construct a museum to rejoice Ghanaian identification.

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How vital is it to you that Ghana’s chieftaincy and conventional tradition are recorded and preserved?

It is rather vital. Chieftaincy is really the spine and root of our Ghanaian tradition. It’s extra frequent now to see completely different points of our historical past being acknowledged by the Western world at college and museum exhibitions, collections, and databases, but it surely looks as if solely 5% is situated and owned in our nation. The vast majority of Si Hene [​collections] are photographs and movies I discovered exterior which Ghana doesn’t personal.

A lot of our conventional tales are offered orally but when the tales aren’t recorded as a result of the person who is extra educated passes on, the story additionally passes or adjustments narrations.

How does your identification as a Ghanaian documenting Ghana’s royal historical past assist you to to current genuine and never distorted info in comparison with when Westerners do it?

It undoubtedly helps [with] presenting the data extra authentically as a result of the true perspective is revealed. We’re in a position to state the true positions that royals held, and the true translations of how cities, dances, devices, and different objects had been named and pronounced.

Lots of the tales that [come] from the Western perspective are typically deceptive or they won’t be as detailed as somebody who’s from that area or somebody who has studied this from Ghana. I’ve seen plenty of our cities being renamed as a result of [their history is told from] a Western perspective.

You’re presently fundraising to construct a bodily museum and analysis institute to deal with visible archives telling Ghana’s chieftaincy and conventional tradition? What knowledgeable the choice after two years of digital documentation?

My final aim is to have a Si Hene museum in every area to indicate the traditions and particular chiefs that dominated in that area. Rising up in the USA, my household and faculty used to take me to museums to find out about completely different cultures and historic moments which made me really respect the significance [of that] in my life.

Having a digital archive is nice however it isn’t accessible to anybody who shouldn’t be utilizing social platforms. Having a bodily constructing and house will present the chance for the neighborhood to interact with the photographs, books, artifacts, and different sources of visuals in individual. It additionally expands the technique of engagement and discussions that flow into the significance of our historical past.

Two large red umbrellas emblazoned with black silhouettes decorated with gold accents.

Two of Rita Mawuena Benissan’s Royal Umbrellas on show on the 2022 Dakar Biennale.
Courtesy of NLC Ghana

What was your expertise exhibiting Royal Umbrellas on the 2022 Dakar Biennale?

The primary theme for the sequence of umbrellas offers with the phrase “Mmae a Ɛda Nsow!” which interprets to a Exceptional Presence. Every of the umbrellas conveys a presence that offers with its bodily presence and a historic presence.

It was a terrific expertise. It was my first biennale and in addition my first time touring to a different African nation. Taking part in a biennale is really a dream come true at an early begin in my artwork profession.

I used to be one in all three artists representing Ghana alongside Kuukua Eshun and . The present was curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and centered on the Museum as Residence so with the ability to reimagine how we current our cultural experiences in institutional areas.

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