The debut Ghana Pavilion, located in the Artiglierie of the historic Arsenale, Venice showcases a multi-generational lineup of six eminent Ghanian artists: El Anatsui, Ibrahim Mahama, Felicia Abban, John Akomfrah, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Selasi Awusi Sosu. Titled ’Ghana Freedom,’ after the 1957 independence song by ET Mensah, the theme explores the legacies and trajectories of the nation’s independence from british colonial rule.
The pavilion is designed by UK-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye, curated by renowned Ghanian Cultural Historian Nana Oforiatta Ayim, and the late Okwui Enwezor served as its strategic advisor.
The pavilion, with its elliptical shape, is inspired by the interconnected earthen architectural shapes throughout West Africa and clad with laterite soil sourced from Ghana. As villages have their own elliptical spaced volumes, so do each of the artists.
Steensen Varming provided the lighting design working with Adjaye’s vision. The lighting for the pavilion establishes an ambience that ensures the artworks are centre stage within their culturally expressive pavilion. Lighting was therefore designed to match the intent and approach for the individual pieces, working in collaboration with the artists to ensure they were accurately represented.
Ibrahim Mahama and El Anatsuis are exhibited in the outer spaces to welcome visitors into the pavilion. Both artists have designed sculptural works that follow the line of the main curved walls. Ibrahims work is made up of many small items integrated within a larger structure, whilst El’s work is a tapestry of metal printing plates, bottle tops and copper wires fashioned together to shimmer like drapped fabric.
In both spaces, the pieces are to be read as one complete work that extends across the space. Ibrahim’s has been lit evenly to connect the different structural elements and objects together, whilst El’s lighting subtley accentuates the work to emhasise movement and play of shadows created by the piece itself.
In some spaces such as those occupied by the AV works of John Akomfrah and Selasie A Sous, Steensen Varming adopt their ’embrace the darkness’ approach, allowing the projections to command the space, with the exception of Selasie’s bottle sculpture accentuated gently to balance visually with the adjoining projections.
Lynette Y Boakye and Felicia Abban are placed in the two centre spaces, Lynette’s being large paintings with deep tones and layered textures, and Felicia’s work delicate black and white portraits. The two spaces are lit in opposing manners to complement the works, where Lynette’s is wall-washed allowing the darker tones and textures to be read together with the surrounding space, Felicia’s lighting is focused and cropped to accentuate the detail of the photographs whilst allowing the surrounding to drop back into darkness.
Short deadlines, a broad international team and working with a lighting hire company posed the challenges in this unique and ambitious project. Working collaboratively during the commissioning period ensured a successful outcome and definitely worth traveling to Venice for this year.
Steensen Varming are currently working with Adjaye Associates on various projects including the Ghana Cathedral in Accra.