Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Art Matriarch

Frances Ademola tells the story of how art has evolved in Ghana forty years since setting up her gallery The Loom.


From the creative ambience inside of her forty year old gallery called The Loom on Kwame Nkrumah Road, Adabraka, Accra, Frances Ademola has over seen the Ghanaian art industry and watched it evolve over time. Returning to Accra in 1969 after a 12 year sojourn in Nigeria where she had been married to the late Adenekan, son of Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, former chief justice of Nigeria, she found out that the Ghanaian art scene could do with some tinkering. Stimulated by the creative atmosphere of Ibadan where she had resided, she craved to re-enact something of that nature in Accra.

“I was stimulated by Nigerian art and creativity and was curious to find out more about the art of my country” says 81 year-old Aunty Frances as she is fondly called by many. Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrapkeya and Jimoh Buraimoh among many others were some of the major artists that she recalls coming into contact with during her sojourn in Nigeria. She had also worked as an assistant to author Chinua Achebe at the Talks Department of the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation as well as edited an anthology of Nigerian poetry and prose titled Reflections that was published by the African Universities Press.

Hence, when she returned to Accra she set up The Loom, the premier privately-owned and run art gallery in the city. Forty years later, the fruits of her labour can be found around the gallery which now houses the works of about 120 artists, mostly Ghanaians. It was a different ball game when she commenced business in 1969 as there was a dearth of local artists. “When I started I could count the number of artists on the fingers of two hands” she says. The more notable artists were the ones who had come in through the academia like Ablade Glover, Ato Delaquis, Ben Offei-Nyarko and Larry Otoo. She feels the encouragement that she has given others outside of the academic environment has made more artists come out into the open with their unique creative eye different from those that attended art schools. Even then Ademola says most of the artists who were teachers have now opened their own art schools as an avenue to train artists who do no not have the requisite qualifications to enter academic institutions. “Art is no longer the preserve of the educated or elite” she says “everybody can (now) be an artist. I encouraged that revolution” she says with pride. “She has made immense contributions to the development and growth of art in Ghana since the 1960s and also helped create a forum for intellectual discourse of art” says John Owoo, a prominent Ghanaian culture writer and journalist.

Even though Ademola misses the vibrancy of the Nigerian art scene which she still keeps up with during visits to the country, she thinks Ghanaian artists are increasingly coming to their own. She feels that the reason for the vibrancy in the Nigerian art environment was because many Nigerians stayed true to their roots and kept their identity intact because of the diversity in the country. She feels Ghanaians were a little inclined to be Europeanized perhaps losing their identity until independence thereby keeping the creative scene on the back burner. But a cultural rejuvenation which is represented by the Akan word and symbol Sankofa has seen many Ghanaians reach back into the past to fetch the lost legacies. For a long time she used to receive works from artists who wanted to cater to the tourists’ market by painting works which they referred to as “African”, she has seen a shift into more serious work over time with greater experimentation among artists.

Designed by Kenneth Scott, an Australian architect, the Loom is located inside the Samlotte House named after her parents Sir Samuel and Lady Charlotte Quarshie-Idun, once the chief justice of Western Nigeria and later the first president of the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa. It houses works of artists with varying backgrounds and the oldest artist with works on display in the gallery is about 95 years-old while the youngest is barely fifteen. “The future’s taken care of” she says. “Art is on-going and new artists are coming all the time”. Gearing up to take over the affairs of the gallery when she retires is her son Adekoye whom she says will bring in “21st century ideas” to run the place. But before then, she makes it a point to reject works which are copies of other people’s artworks. “I’m the eye of the buyer. It’s a good thing that I’m not an artist” she concludes saying “this saves me from being prejudiced”.