David Adjaye designs first national pavilion for Ghana at the Venice Biennale

David Adjaye Ghana pavilion.
David Adjaye used earth transported from Ghana to plaster the walls of the pavilion exhibition. The lighting was designed by Danish engineering firm Steensen Varming. Pictured here, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Just Amongst Ourselves (2019) series of oil paintings on linen and canvas.Courtesy of the artist; Corvi-Mora, London; and Jack Shainman Ga
(Image credit: David Levene . Corvi-Mora, London; and Jack Shainman Ga)

Sir David Adjaye’s design for Ghana’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale brings earth and traditional architecture from Ghana to Venice. ‘Ghana Freedom’ recognises the country’s history, independence and global presence today, through the pavilion design and the ideas of the six artists on display, who span three generations.

The idea for the pavilion was sparked and facilitated by Adjaye and curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim, who were joined by art world tour de force Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019), who sadly passed away in March, as a strategic advisor.

It is made of smoked fish mesh, wood, cloth, and archival materials.

Ibrahim Mahama’s A Straight Line Through the Carcass of History 1649 (2016–19), made of smoked fish mesh, wood, cloth, and archival materials, on display at the Ghanaian pavilion. Courtesy the artist and White Cube

(Image credit: David Levene )

Named ‘Ghana Freedom’ after the song by E.T. Mensah composed in celebration of independence from British colonial rule in 1957, when the nation of Ghana was established, the pavilion is a proud moment for Ghana. For Oforiatta Ayim the pavilion represents ‘finally moving out of the “postcolonial” moment into one we have yet to envision’.

The exhibition takes a global approach to nationhood, where the artists travel beyond borders, cross diasporas and trace migration, and the conversation feels liberated from the past, because the present is so multi-dimensional, creative and all-consuming.

Adjaye’s aim was to bring the colours and textures of Ghana to Venice through the design – and to reflect on life in the country over the past century alongside the artists. The dynamism of the art works and their stories is echoed in the smooth curves of Adjaye’s design. Visitors are welcomed in and led around elliptically-shaped spaces echoing the curved walls of traditional earth houses built in the village of Sirigu in the Upper East Region of Ghana.

Digital images generated from original prints.

Felicia Abban’s display, Untitled (Portraits and Self-Portraits) (c. 1960–70s) – digital images generated from original prints, within the exhibition design. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: David Levene )

The pavilion descends on the art and its visitors like an atmosphere, one of dry grainy heat and radiant warmth. The deep ochre colour of the walls – plastered with soil transported from Ghana – casts an amber glow upon the artworks and the rough texture absorbs light and muffles sound.

The Ghanaian pavilion, which can be found in the Artiglierie of the historic Arsenale, represents a historic moment for Ghana: ‘We have arrived,’ concludes the Honorable Catherine Afeku, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture for Ghana

A Straight Line Through the Carcass of History 1649 (2016–19) by Ibrahim Mahama. 

A Straight Line Through the Carcass of History 1649 (2016–19) by Ibrahim Mahama. Courtesy of the artist and White Cube

(Image credit: David Levene)

Detail of El Anatsui’s Earth Shedding Its Skin (2019).

Detail of El Anatsui’s Earth Shedding Its Skin (2019) made of bottle caps and copper wires.Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: David Levene)

Just Amongst Ourselves (2019) by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Just Amongst Ourselves (2019) by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, a series of oil paintings on linen and canvas.Courtesy of the artist; Corvi-Mora, London; and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

(Image credit: David Levene.)

Information

Ghana's national pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale is on view from 11 May to 24 November 2019. ‘Ghana Freedom’ will travel from Venice to Accra after the Biennale. For more information, visit the Biennale website (opens in new tab)

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.