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

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

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.

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. Photography: David Levene. Courtesy the artist and White Cube

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.

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

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. §

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