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27 Aug 2019 11:09
Artists perform during the Chale Wote street art festival in Accra, on August 21, 2016. - Some 200 african artists display their work from August 18 to 21, 2016, in the Ghanaian capital. (Ruth McDowall / AFP)
I’ll call him Nana, which may or may not be his name. We see him at a library where I also bump into my friend, Gail.
My Ghanaian writer friends, led by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, have decided, in a short space of time, to do a tribute public reading and discussion for the late Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison.
It is a narrative which a writer or any artist in any African country is familiar with. Readers in Nigeria show me more love than many more deserving Nigerian writers because of ethnic affiliations or some other biases, while musicians from Tanzania will get more love in Kenya than Kenyans. That writer who penned the gospel words of prophets not being welcome in their own towns was on to something.
At Chale Wote street festival, I meet two visual artist friends from Cameroon and South Africa. They have some prime exhibition space in the festival space. Granted, the space has to be paid for, and my Cameroonian and my South African friends most likely got funding for their exhibitions – funding from the two countries that Ghanaian artists could not access. It’s no less painful to see that Ghanaians are exhibiting on the street in small spaces at a festival in their own country. Despite the conditions of the exhibitions from the locals, an artwork speaks to me enough that I wish I could have it. The Ghanaian cedi is the third strongest currency on the continent so I can only look enviously but I am later surprised by writer Bisi Adjapon when she delivers the artwork to me as a present. It’s a beautiful gift – and one that would likely have cost much more if it had had its rightful pride of place in prime exhibition space.
When I next meet Nana, it’s at a live reggae session at Jamrock in East Legon. The event happens every Friday and Saturday and focuses on classic reggae. Co-owned by a Ghanaian woman and her Jamaican husband, aside from reggae, Jamrock treats you to a Jamaica-meets-Ghana cuisine that blends in nicely with the setting. I call him out on his article. Nii organised it. ‘How did you write an article which doesn’t even mention him?’ Nana is apologetic. I am not sure, though, whether I have shamed him enough to get him to buy copies of the books of the writers he disrespected in his article. I know for certain, art journalist though he is, he has not engaged with his writers’ works, that’s why he couldn’t give them the necessary respect.
There is a certain freedom to being here that I don’t find at home, I think. Or perhaps I, a South African in Ghana, see the same freedom here that Esi, my Ghanaian friend in Johannesburg, sees in South Africa.
Perhaps freedom is overstating it. Maybe we see possibilities in each other’s countries that we don’t see in our own. In certain income brackets, we are treated with the kindness and welcoming attitude that people in our own homes do not treat us with. And so we are surprised at the constant dissatisfaction that our friends from countries we have visited have with their lot. What’s there not to like? Your country is wonderful. Everyone was so welcoming. So friendly. So loving. I want to go back as soon as I can.
It’s not a new revelation yet it’s a revelation I wish I didn’t have to realise all the time. But perhaps if more Nanas showed an acknowledgement and an appreciation for my tribes people and I all over the continent with the same gusto as they do whoever comes from beyond, we may be in for something good.
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