While most artistic activities are centralised in Accra, especially in the southern part of Ghana, there is an exception. It is the father and daughter team from Bolgatanga, the Upper East Region, Samuel and Edna Azumah Ananga – who have lighted the artistic flame in the city.
Employing the various known artistic media – paintings, sculptures and textiles, they have become the trailblazers in the ‘far-off’ northern part of the country. The efforts of the duo have not gone unrecognised as Edna last year won the Silver Jubilee Miss Ghana UK awards worth Ghc20, 000.00 which she intends to use for her art in order to curb societal problems.
Mr Ananga, a self-taught artist, has been involved with the arts for 30 years, albeit on the quiet side. More of a naturally talented fine artist, his formal training in art ended when he completed his GCE Advanced Level studies in art, which was his hobby and passion. Now that he is on pension, he has taken on the practice full time.
Being an artist in Ghana, however, is very risky as patronage of the arts is still low. This has resulted in artists becoming house painters and sign writers – just something to get going.
Ananga admitted that the problem of Ghanaians not appreciating the arts is due to lack of state support. ‘We have an Arts Centre which is not functioning … we need a place where art can be practised and displayed. The little support from the corporate world has not been through any conscious programmes initiated by the state,” he explained.
Government must introduce incentives, including encouraging the teaching of art from the primary school level. The lack of patronage has forced many would-be great painters to resort to commercial art to fill their stomachs, he pointed out. “This is where sports promoters are ahead because the state plays a role in their performance thereby giving them leverage, something we artists don’t get.”
As someone not in active employment, he is concentrating on imparting the knowledge to the youth in Bolgatanga and its environs. “The project is to impact and inspire the new generation on art … serve as a role model to let them know, understand and appreciate it … my job is to whip up interest for Ghana’s sake, believing that one day the North will meet the South in art, that’s when elements peculiar to northern art will be incorporated with southern influences to create a new art form for Ghana,” he expressed convincingly.
“Football sells Ghana, art must also put the country on the world map and this can be done only when we involve all. This includes politicians and non-governmental organisations, NGOs; my aim is to set up an arts village to train others in various aspects of creativity, including holding exhibitions which will open peoples’ eyes to the possibilities and potentialities inherent in the subject,” Ananga added.
“There are artists in the north producing great art pieces but because of lack of exposure, they are being ripped off even though they know the prices being offered by the buyers is not right because we know they sell these works for far higher prices when they take them outside Ghana. Here they pay us peanuts,’ Mr. Ananga added.
“The lack of projection has discouraged many from expressing their talent and therefore it is very difficult to survive as an artist, the arts environment is not conducive and that is why we must alert all, the media must come in to help, to expose us.
‘We also need exhibition halls to hang our works where they will be better appreciated; and this goes for the whole country. The lack of proper museums and galleries has not helped the cause of the artist,” he stated.
He admitted, however, pursuing his God-given talent has been more helpful than engaging in nefarious activities like smuggling across borders, a common occurrence in the North.
On his daughter, Edna, he has this to say: “She was always close by me and shown the interest at a very early age, it is hereditary.”
Ananga described himself as an all-rounder: he is at home with water colour, pen and ink and screen printing, and has tried his hands on acrylic, and portraits using oil; but in all, he prefers landscaping, especially realistic painting.
By Kafui Gale-Zoyiku