The African does not travel through time: time travels through the African, much like a river in which we each stand facing downstream. The water immediately surrounding us is the present, joining history as it flows past. This - according to the philosopher John Mbiti - is the African concept of time: "a long past, a present and virtually no future." This does not mean we have no future, but tells us that the future floats somewhere behind us. We cannot speed it up. There is no need to turn around and wade into it. It is inevitable and will flow in our direction. We can only focus on what has already happened and (more importantly) what is taking place today; the latter being the aspect of time over which we wield the most control.
Popularly known as Artsoul Kojo, Nana Danso Awuah-Asante is a self-taught Ghanaian contemporary artist whose work continues traditions of storytelling that evoke African visual symbolism, ultimately exploring how the human psyche processes the stranger aspects of our everyday lives, creating infinite new ways of looking at the world.
Showing from February 2021 at Gallery 1957, his installation The History of Ghana presents Ghana’s story from the perspective of what is yet to be; futures in which our present is the past and our decisions and actions today have either healed our collective self or doomed us all to repeat the past until we perfect it. Through an endless cast of characters and motifs, Artsoul Kojo explores how our collective future is dependent on the thoughts and actions of free individuals today who can either harness that responsibility or squander it.
There is both a deep sadness and an anger that one experiences when one is cheated of one's history; history for which blood was shed, lives were lost and victories hard won. While researching this work, Artsoul Kojo was reminded that the history that he and his peers are taught is riddled with gaps. What little is left is tethered around colonial knowledge of far less relevance to African identity than the ancient knowledge it replaced. What remains of such ancient knowledge - around everything from wealth and migration to how we communicated and connected to the people, the planet, and the stars - has been stripped of context and left bare.
The History of Ghana is an attempt to find information and share it from a place deep within. Artsoul Kojo takes his inspiration from the elders' use of symbols as vessels to carry complex history and transmit it through time to our descendants. The human imagination has a well-documented ability to latch onto symbols as means of manipulating the world. Artsoul Kojo infuses The History of Ghana with shapes and forms inspired as much by the familiar as he is by things borrowed from the unknown. It takes gifted storytellers to stretch our collective imagination, weaving new realities and alternative narratives out of their observations of society. Artsoul Kojo honours African storytellers with ‘theeyewitness’: a character that pervades much of his art; watching on with wonder, bearing witness and quietly questioning society in surreal landscapes inspired by national history.
Walking through a multidimensional mural, the audience will be surrounded by dreamlike paintings depicting pasts that that may look alien but feel familiar: visions of what it may yet mean to be Ghanaian when the Ghana we want is yet to drift through time towards us. Using the tapestry of time itself, ArtSoul Kojo invites us to commune not only with the ancestors but also with our descendants asking ourselves who we are, who we have been and who we may yet be.