Amplifying the impact of cultural legacies

The creative industries have been severely impacted by the events of the last year. For former Sydenham High Head Girl Chrissa Amuah (Class of 2001) her initial disappointment that the pandemic had postponed the London Design Biennale, has turned to renewed excitement with the news that event is now due to be held from 1-31 June 2021, coinciding with the G7’s 47th summit in London.

A textile design MA graduate of Chelsea College of Art & Design, Chrissa has teamed up with architect Alice Asafu-Adjaye to represent Ghana at the Biennale on the historic grounds of Somerset House. Both women are of dual Ghanaian-British nationality, and practice in London and Accra respectively. In response to the exhibition theme of ‘Resonance’, the Ghana pavilion, titled Amplify, explores the conversation between Ghana and two of its former colonial rulers, Britain and Denmark, over four centuries. It is done through the story of Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England, who moved to Somerset House in 1603. Once there, she threw her energy into patronage of the arts, creating a cultural salon attracting painters, writers and thinkers.:

As two black African women, operating within the male-dominated worlds of architecture and design, and continuing the tradition of African female craftsmanship and design, we recognised Anne of Denmark’s power and determination to centre the arts at Somerset House. The legacy of which, still exists there today.”

The cultural values being nurtured in the Gold Coast by colonisers, such as Britain and Denmark, were very eurocentric. History shows the disproportionate way in which the colonies benefited from and influenced their occupied territories. Despite a strong history of Ghanaian resistance to colonial imposition, many symbolic and cultural assets that European colonisers looted now sits on display or in the archives of European museums/private collections. The resonance of this period of history is still felt today. Chrissa elaborates:

“Amplify is a concept study that demonstrates how mutual growth and development benefits all, in contrast to a period when Europeans were developing societies with art and culture at their core, at the expense of their colonies – an example of which is Somerset House… The architecture and 450 year history of Somerset House provide the perfect foil for a project that explores a rich Ghanaian cultural tapestry.”

Chrissa feels that Amplify speaks very much to current times and the need for new discussions about the celebration of Africa and the continuing discussions and effects of racial injustice continue to be a source of inspiration to deliver an installation that represents Ghana in the most deserving and fitting way.

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