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ArchiAfrica Newsletter on the role of the museum in Africa today
Arts, 7 Feb 2012
Interior view of the central hall of the National Museum of Ghana

The December 2011 issue of the ArchiAfrica newsletter is dedicated to the role of the museum in Africa today, and more especially Ghana. We here present the introductory paragraphs of the leading story, The National Museum: Past, Present & Future Visions, by Rachel Stella Jenkins.
On the 5th of March 1957, the day before the first colony in Sub-Saharan Africa declared its independence, the National Museum of Ghana, now one of the oldest museums in West Africa, was inaugurated.

A place that served to create a common front in the face of a newly independent and ethnically diverse state, and a synonym for a united African independence, the National Museum, situated in Accra the capital city, stands as a testament of a time when the first African nation made a transition from
colonial rule to independence. Capturing the imagination of the nation, the continent and the world, the museum became a site for legitimising ancestral heritage whilst also forging the new African personality.

So powerful was this moment and opportunity that Ghana became a Mecca for children of the Diaspora. Famous individuals such as Louis Armstrong, Maya Angelou, Muhammad Ali, C.L.R James, Martin Luther King, who visited
with President Nixon for the Independence celebrations and Malcom X all came to Ghana.

Becoming a centre for disseminating culture and looking at all the aspects of African culture, Ghana was also the setting for Encyclopaedia Africana. Like the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it was compiled to give evidence of everything about Africa. In essence, that Africa and Africans alike had a history and a
capability, a dream that so many were enhanced by.

For the urban generation of today faced with different challenges, what legacy remains of the high hopes of the time of independence? What is the space of the past in the present - and the future? I met with key members from the Ghana Monuments and Museums Board and prominent figures of Accra’s cultural scene to open a dialogue on the role of the museum and culture in Ghana’s growth and development.

Accra is now a bustling and expansive African metropolis of between 4 to 5 million people and globalisation is rapidly changing the economic and social character of the city. Air-conditioned shopping malls, hours of traffic jams, gated communities and a growing presence of Chinese migrants, to name a few, are evidences of the changes taking place.

Can the museum find its way to go beyond being a centre of memorialisation and also become a place of inspiration? As the nation becomes increasingly urban and builds more ties with the outside world, a time where traditions and customs are often forsaken in the name of development, can the museum maintain its ambition of presenting and propagating what binds Ghanaians together beyond the ancient artefacts on show? These are some of the questions my conversations brought up.
Stella Jenkins' full article and the complete newsletter can be found here as a PDF file. A French version is available as well.

Apart from the editorial by Berend van der Lan, the newsletter also includes the following articles:

The History & architecture of the National Museum (of Ghana), by Mae-ling Jovenes Lokko.

African Museums & the Past: A critical view on Postcolonial dilemmas - Challenges by Museums in Africa, by Raphael Chikukwa, Curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

“A nation that has no proper documentation of her history is a lost nation”, by Ghanaian artist Fatric Bewong.

“It takes just one building to put a city on the map, to change perceptions & extend the limits of what is considered possible ”, an interview with Carlo Matta, Laurus Developments, by Rachel Stella Jenkins.

ArchiAfrika has as its aim to put (modern) African architectural culture on the world map. It offers a platform for the exchange of news and expertise in this field. ArchiAfrika initiates and facilitates research and projects on the terrain of African architecture and architecture in Africa.

In 2012, ArchiAfrika will focus on Ghana. There is a compelling reason for this: the core of the organization is preparing a shift from the Netherlands to Accra.

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