There, on this Thursday afternoon, adjacent the A & C Mall and painted all-white, stood the famous African Market Shopping Center. A magnificent edifice, it was littered with numerous artefacts of African origin. Soothing Kojo Antwi classics filled one’s ears, and a cool breeze caressed his forearms.
An exhibition was ongoing. All around the building, and in its compound were stands showcasing colorful wares which demonstrate the perpetual rich heritage that the black race has been associated with since Kemet was founded circa 300 BC: fabrics and fashion, beads, paintings and fine arts, pottery and ceramic ware, leather crafts, sculptures among other accessories.
First held in 2001 in Osu – Accra, the annual exhibition parades some 24,000 exotic and modern artefacts from iconic destinations as Egypt, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Niger, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, and Burkina Faso.
This year’s event – a 10-day marathon, started on May 17. Frequent testimonies from acquaintances and social media had led me there on this fateful day (May 25), which coincidentally was being marked around the globe as African Union Day.
Crafts from the continent a renowned globally, and today, the world’s appreciation of them is ever so vehement. From museums, to music, to fashion, the influence of Africa’s peculiar creativity is infinitely felt.
Also going by the acronym AACD, the gift fair, put together by a skilled team of curators, is a key backbone for the esteemed reputation of African art and artefacts “out there”.
Working in close consultation with artists, suppliers, and other stakeholders, the African Market takes all submitted works through rigorous checks in order to ascertain their fitness for exhibition and/or export, because in the final analysis, it is not about the quantity (as Managing Director Serwaa Evans Amoah tells me in an interview: “we need to send out there, quality”).
And rich quality was indeed spattered in every direction. Patrons marveled with wide eyes and broad smiles at the many alluring intricacies of historic meaning on wood, fabric, metal, plastic, and other materials. Excited tourists, collectors and members of the general public took photos of many of the works, or posed next to them. Because of how astonishingly affordable items are at the African Market, brisk buying and selling went on too: t- shirts, beads, footwear, masks, bags and shopping bags, sculpture of various sizes were being plucked off the stands by eager buyers (a refreshingly cosmopolitan mix of arts lovers).
“The handicrafts sector in Ghana has the potential to contribute US 10 Million or more instead of the US 4.27 Million per anum earned in 2015, if given the requisite support, like Kenya, because Ghana and Africa abound in huge material and human resources to turn the artefacts concept into economic gains”, experts believe. Without doubt, the African Market is spearheading this conviction into reality, distinguishing itself as a one-stop destination for treasures as these.
The African Market has assumed the stature of a true institution, and ubiquitous acclaim as a “cultural renaissance center for schools, tourists and individuals to learn African symbols and their meanings, Kente weaving, beads-making, wood carvings, sculpture, etc”.
Truly living the accolade “Gateway to Africa”, successive Ghanaian governments have regularly incorporated local artefacts in their diplomatic function. For example: Ex- president Jerry Rawlings is credited as being the diving force behind the artefact agenda, specifically with his Kente Christmas card initiative. These cards, which also had local symbols on them were produced for use by government officials and people of Ghana during the Ghana @ 40 celebrations. His successor J.A. Kufuor, presented a framed Kente cloth to Oxford Union Society (Alma Mata) during Ghana’s golden jubilee celebrations. J.E. Atta Mills presented framed Kente cloth to former US President Barrack Obama, during his visit to Ghana, and President Nana Addo Danquah Akuff-Addo presented African art pieces to visiting heads of states at the recently-held diamond jubilee celebrations. These gestures remain extremely symbolic in how as a country, we project our culture.
Serwaa Evans Amoah revealed in our conversation, that their numerous feats aside, the African Market nurtures plans to take Ghana’s tourism space to a whole new level. Judging by what I experienced on May 25, I wouldn’t put it past them.
A bowl of Fufu —served with a chilled beverage under a summer hut in the premises –proves the perfect crowning of one’s day at the African Market. Those final steps out of the large gates left me with a renewed sense of pride, royalty, and confidence in the following words: I am African.