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Musing On Street Art In Accra

The body of society cannot fully take shape without the vital organ of art, which has acted as a salient part of Ghanaian culture through our literature, film and mythology. As time wears on, art within the Ghanaian sphere has moulded into countless faces, and with creativity resting at the heart of Simpliexpand, it felt crucial to highlight a visage which although has made great strides in being recognized, arguably remains understated: the street art of Accra.

 Appreciating the value of street art holistically began with searching for its antiquity within the Ghanaian realm, only to be met with the unfortunate reality that the historical information of its birth, on and offline, and even amongst artists, appears to be unknown. 

The origin of street art in Accra seemingly cannot be traced to a specific source or time period, and upon asking a few elderly people if they remember seeing murals on the town walls in their younger days, the idea of street artistry being a more contemporary phenomenon was shared, where although there could have been the possibility of murals being present in some areas of Accra, street art as a whole only became more noticeable to them and the general public in the modern age. 

As such, its rise in prominence is often credited to the Chalewote festival, typically hosted in the beloved streets of Jamestown for audiences to interact with diverse productions of art, music, and dance. Each year is hosted with a theme which encourages afrocentric concepts, and has become renowned as a hub for street artists and patrons to network, which is a viable form of pulling in potential sponsors for local art projects. 

In spite of its widespread impact, the Chalewote festival seems to be only a crevice of the depth and purpose of the graffiti artwork across Accra. The intention behind a large number of the paintings focuses on materializing aspects of Ghanaian customs and historical figures, which often appear to adopt monikers of traditional West African art styles, such as stylized realism. 

The intricacy in how vibrant colors are enmeshed to convey historical motifs, shows how the pieces of art are often an extension of the nationalistic pride artists bear in their Ghanaian identities, coupled with the uniqueness of their imagination. With such a wide canvas, worlds are created which lay emphasis on celebrating the cultural epithets of Ghana. The revered grafitti artist Scrapa agreed, imparting: 

“A lot of the art we do is about the culture. For example, with a We Dey Like Accra mural, we used the colors of African print to create a pattern for the letters. We do try to use everything that is Ghanaian. I’m more of a modernist, I like to make people feel like we are evolving, but you can’t really lose the culture, otherwise you lose the authenticity. ”

The intrinsic relationship between artists and their work begs the question of whether or not street art is also viewed as a deep form of expression for Ghanaian audiences, to which Scrapa again helped contextualize, musing: 

“If you say expression, it means that the person is deciphering or asking questions about the work, but only little people try to ask questions about what we’re doing or what it means. It’s more so viewed as something that beautifies the surroundings, where most people just want to take pictures with the art”. 

The sentiment of art mainly being used as an aesthetic by audiences is typically shared by other artists of various crafts, which tends to leave the meaning an artist intended on creating untouched. This may be due to the fact that we are living in an era which places weight on image, where we are, at times, swayed by consumerist teachings which do not encourage us to scrape beyond the surface. 

Let’s pause and think about it for a moment, do you ever stop to ask yourself questions when art is placed in front of you? 

Do you ever ponder on where the mind of the artist might have been in the midst of creating? 

What might be viewed as our simplistic relationship with art can also be viewed as one which has led to street art becoming a symbol of allure, as through the love of beautification, it has permeated other forms of art, such as music videos, films, and digital content creation. This speaks to the exquisiteness of street art in itself, in which audiences undoubtedly find themselves drawn to the luster of the paintings on the wall, enough to want to become one with it.

 It is clear, then, that the skill of street artists deserves to be graced with flowers for dedicating their creativity to illustrating the Ghanaian essence, and even where their art focuses on alternative themes, for acting as a beacon of innovation and individuality. 

Street art can act as a voice for reflecting social and political sentiments, as a teacher on our customs and historical figures, and can simply inspire love and respect for the multi variance and liberty art brings to people and to places. It should be treated as more than a tool for economic or social gain on an individual or institutional level, and with that being said, we must ask ourselves:

 Do we thank street artists enough for their contributions to our home? 

Do we know how to fully support and celebrate their gifts? 

A conversation worth having is always one unafraid to explore the depth of art, and honor the hands behind it.