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 now turned to joy at representing Ghana with her installation Amplify at Somerset House (from 1-31 June 2021). It has received much critical acclaim and so far been featured in Wallpaper* and the Financial Times.
A textile design MA graduate of Chelsea College of Art & Design, Chrissa teamed up with architect Alice Asafu-Adjaye to create Amplify. Both women are of dual Ghanaian-British nationality, and practise in London and Accra respectively. In response to the exhibition theme of ‘Resonance’, the Ghana pavilion 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.”
Amplify is an exploration of what might have been, had the relationship between Ghana and its former colonisers been fair and mutually beneficial, contrasted with the reality of pillage and exploitation. The result is a room hung with massive overlapping, gold-burnished metal discs, beaten thin by Ghanaian craftsmen and imprinted with the textures of adobe hut walls.
The history of the Gold Coast shows the disproportionate way in which the colonies – such as Britain and Denmark- benefited from and influenced their occupied territories. Despite strong 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.
You can watch Chrissa discussing the rationale behind creating Amplify with fellow GDST alumna Afua Hirsch on Instagram here
Photo credit: Dean Hearne Instagram @Dean.Heane