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Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List

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Antubam, Kofi. "The story of modern development in Ghanaian arts," pp. 197-215. In: Ghana's heritage of culture. Leipzig: Koehler & Amelang, 1963. DT510.4.A6X 1963. OCLC 01326505.

The inclusion of art in the Ghanaian curriculum back in the days when it was the Gold Coast is due to a few enterprising colonial education officers and teachers, among whom are D. J. Oman, G. A. Stevens, Gabriel Pippet, and H. V. Meyerowitz and Eva L. R. Meyerowitz. Achimota College was the primary center of early arts activity. The halcyon days and years before and after Ghanaian independence in 1957 saw the flourishing of the Arts Council of Ghana, the formation of the Ghana Society of Artists, and the rise of the "Akwapim Six." These and other developments on the Ghanaian cultural front are recounted by Antubam, one of the central figures.

See also Antubam's brief but important discussion of the rightful place of easel painting in modern Ghana (pp. 130-131).

Campbell, Eva. Urban themes in contemporary Ghanaian painting. B.A. thesis, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, 1988. ix, 67 leaves, [17] leaves of plates., bibl. refs. [unpublished]. ND1099.G5C18 1988a AFA. OCLC 22266712.

Although easel painting was imported from the West, it cannot be said that painters in Ghana today who use this medium are practicing an alien art form. In fact, modern easel painting is very much part of what Campbell calls Neo-Ghanaian culture.

Artists played an important role in forging Ghanaian national identity in the years following independence (1957). Some of these efforts, e.g., commissioned portraits or murals, still reflected Western academic art principles, even though the themes were Ghanaian. Kofi Antubam and Ernest Victor Asihene are two "Old Masters of Ghana" who "used western pictorial formats and techniques to portray traditional African life" (page 28).

Ghanaian painters of the 1970s and 1980s have not abandoned themes taken from rural and traditional Ghana, but there has been a definite move away from the realism that characterized the early painters toward abstraction and expressionistic styles. The other hallmark of modern Ghanaian painters is the choice of urban themes. Ato Delaquis and Ablade Glover are discussed in this regard, as are younger painters Baidoo Mensah, Theophilus Lantei Mills and Campbell herself.

Ghana : hier et aujourd’hui = yesterday and today. Paris: Musée Dapper, 2003. 423 pp. illus. (some color), bibl. refs. (p. 393-399). Text in French and English. N7399.G5 G44 2003 AFA. OCLC 52510019.

The exhibition catalog Ghana: hier et aujourd’hui presents a broad survey and history of Ghanaian art and artists. More than 100 pages of the weighty tome are devoted to the contemporary art scene.

L’art du Ghana à l’époque des mouvances contemporaines = Ghanaian art in a time of change, written by Atta Kwami, chronicles the evolution of Ghanaian art from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. He highlights the artists who helped shape modern Ghanaian art. The next contribution Owusu-Ankomah en jeu de forces = Owusu-Ankomah’s power games, written by Joëlle Busca, sheds light upon the German-Ghanaian artist Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah.

The third essay Almighty God, l’artiste inspire = Almighty God, the = inspired artist, written by Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau, details the painter Kwame Akoto, who is better known by the name Almighty God. The last section Images choc : peintures-affiches du Ghana = Shocking images : Ghanaian painted posters, written by Michelle Gilbert, focuses on the shocking imagery of Ghanaian painted posters for movies and plays.

Kumasi Junction. Llandudno, Wales: Oriel Mostyn Gallery, 2002. 48pp. illus. (color). N7399.G5K85 2002 AFA. OCLC 51779505.

The Kumasi Junction project belongs to Atta Kwami. His work is the centerpiece and the inspiration for this group exhibition in Wales. The other nine are all commercial sign-painters, non-academy artists from Kumasi, Ghana. The main point is that any dividing line between academic artists and "street" artists is artificial, and Kwami for one is trying to obliterate this distinction. It is also in a way his homage to the creativity and spirit of painters like Almighty God and Akwasi Addai. Contrary to conventional wisdom, most of these street artists have undergone considerable training through apprenticeships, sometimes lasting for several years. Their work is purchased by a wide range of Ghanaians as well as foreigners. In short, they are quite successful.

In addition to Atta Kwami, Kumasi Junction features the work of Akwasi Addai, Kwame Akoto (Almighty God), Alex Amofa, Isaac Otchere Azey, Asibey Boakye Barbentine, Bless (His Name), Gabriel Oduro, Elvis Presley, and King Samino. The catalog includes essays by John Picton and Liz Peri-Willis.

Kwami, Atta, 1956- Kumasi realism 1951-2007: an African modernism. London: Hurst & Co.; Accra: Ghana Denmark Cultural Fund, 2013. 430pp. illus. (chiefly color), bibliog. (pp. 406-420). ND1099.G52 K865 2013 AFA. OCLC 873745939.

Atta Kwami’s Kumasi is a city of art, in the academy (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) but equally important on the streets and in the marketplaces of Ghana’s second largest urban center. Where others see separation, Kwami sees the connections between the academically-trained artists and the self-taught or workshop-trained signboard artists. One of the principal connections is the realism of this art. His own art is deeply influenced by the rhythm and color of Kumasi’s visual culture.

This book originated as Kwami’s doctoral dissertation at the Open University and is the first serious look at modernism in Ghanaian art of the 20th century. Contents: Introduction: Beautiful Kumasi -- Art education in Ghana: university and workshop -- Four college based painters: case studies -- Four city masters: case studies -- Five college/workshop-trained painters: case studies -- Conclusion: Kumasi realism, an African modernism.

Reviewed by Kristen Windmuller-Luna in African arts (Los Angeles) 49 (1) spring 2016, pages 92-93.

Pioneers of contemporary Ghanaian art exhibition: catalogue / text by Kojo Fosu. Accra, Ghana: Artists' Alliance Gallery, 2012. xi, 110pp. illus. (color).

Modernism in Ghanaian art is represented by the eight pioneering artists featured in this catalog. The pioneering giants include Vincent Kofi, Kobina Bucknor, Amon Koeti, A. O. Bartimeus, Olu Ampofo, Saka Acquaye, E. V. C. Asihene, and Kofi Antubam. The catalog, produced by Ablade Glover's Artists Alliance Gallery, is primarily illustrated with brief bio sketches and portraits of the artists. This chosen format is both the strength and shortfall. While quite valuable to see the collected artworks, more text would have enriched the effort. Kojo Fosu provides a brief introduction.

Schoonmaker, Trevor. Modifying modernism in urban Ghana: checking in at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. Ann Arbor: [the author], 1998. 29, 16, leaves. illus., bibliog. (leaves 28-29). N7399.G5S37 1998 AFA. OCLC 47094989.

A study of two Ghanaian painters, Richmond Teye Ackam and Godfred Annum, at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. Ackam is on faculty at UST, while Annum is a M.F.A. student at the time of this study. This paper was completed in November 1998 for the Department of Art History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Svašek, Maruška. "Identity and style in Ghanaian artistic discourse," pp. 27-61. In: Contesting art: art, politics, and identity in the modern world / edited by Jeremy MacClancy. Oxford; New York: Berg, 1997. illus., bibliog. (pp. 22-25). (Berg ethnic identities series). N72.A56C66 1997X AFA. OCLC 37790451.

Modern Ghanaian art in the colonial and post-colonial periods has been political in the sense that artists have elected what to portray and how to portray it in the face of opposing expectations. Colonial art teachers sought to preserve ancient art forms and discouraged European-style art. Nkrumah had a different Pan-Africanist agenda with its own expectations of what Ghanaian art should look like and how it should serve the state. Consumers of modern Ghanaian art have their own expectations -- a certain quality of "African-ness," a romanticizing of the past. How artists negotiate their own identities and styles within these environments is the theme of Svašek's essay. She looks at the milieu of art schools -- Achimota College and the University of Science and Technology in Kumase. Based on fieldwork in Accra and Kumase in 1989-1990 and interviews with many artists of different generations, she considers artists' intent, attitudes of art teachers, the taboo subject of commericalism and economic dependency, and Ghanaian artists in an international arena.

Among the artists interviewed or whose work is discussed are Amon Kotei, Ebeneezer Donkor, Oku Ampofu, Kobina Bucknor, Vincent Kofi, Ato Delaquis, Ablade Glover, Adam Agyeman, Atta Kwami, Eric Wemega-Kwawu and Kewku Andrews.

Transition: samtidskunst fra Ghana / edited by Ulandssekretaritaat LO/FtF Council. Copenhagen, Denmark: Ulandssekretariatet, 2004. 97pp. illus. (color), portraits. Text in Danish and English. N7399.G5T73 2004 AFA. OCLC 79625163.

The exhibition "Transition," held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2004, showcases thirteen Ghanaian artists: Wiz Edinam, Gabriel Eklou, Eric Wemega-Kwawu (Rikki), Kofi Asante, Ben Offei-Nyarko (Bon), Ato Delaquis, Ablade Glover, George Hughes, Larry Otoo, Frank Asomani, Samuel Opoku, Kofi Setordji, and All Mighty God (Kwame Akoto). Kojo Fosu in an introductory essay chronicles the evolution of modern art in Ghana from the colonial period when Western-style art education was introduced to the present. He analyzes the themes, styles and techniques employed by each of the artists. Portraits and biodata are included.