Art in the City: Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Jamestown, Accra

This past weekend, a series of arts organizations in Accra sponsored the Chale Wote Street Art Festival, a one-day event to showcase local art and creativity of the city of Accra’s resident artists. The event, which took place in the historic location of Jamestown, consisted of a series of art events and spaces at historic sites, with concurrent activities taking place throughout the day. It was organized and sponsored by a number of local arts organizations, including ACCRA[dot]alt and the Foundation for Contemporary Art, Ghana. These organizations, which often operate in the periphery in terms of their ability to bring art to the masses, took this opportunity to bring art directly to the people, directly to the street.

My first stop at the Chale Wote festival was the Old Kingsway Building, located on High Street in Jamestown. Inside Old Kingsway Building: Graffiti art produced by local visual artist Kwabena Danso (Jahwi).

The Old Kingsway Building, located on High Street. The dilapidated structure, which usually is occupied by area youths, was transformed into artists’ canvas for local youth and adults to create art.
Inside Old Kingsway Building, local youth, adults and event organizers (Foundation for Contemporary Art Ghana) produce art.

Local youth = local artists.
Wall painting, as well as face and body painting, was part of the creative exercise.

The challenges of promoting art in Accra, as well as many other African cities, is a well-documented one (see my earlier post on efforts to transform Accra into a cultural capital), and has often been attributed to the difficulty of creating a structured industry, finding dynamic ways to capture revenues to make the industry a self-sustainable one, and the lack of preservation and appreciation for local, historical culture and opportunities to market it and the city’s unique identity. That said, there is no lack of locally inspired and locally created art in Accra, borrowing from both traditional as well as contemporary and even future-oriented techniques.

While Accra seems rife with contrived, stereotypical art (e.g., paintings of trotros, tables and figures carved of wood) that is heavily patronized and geared toward international tourists, there is little support for a locally inspired, vibrant art creators. Supporting these contemporary artists is one of the main agenda items for the Foundation for Contemporary Art, Ghana, which seeks to promote and support local artists in the area. FCA was a major contributor for the graffiti/wall art exposition that took place at the street art festival.

Local Art Exhibition
One of the most interesting stops was the local art exhibition, housed in Ussher Fort, a former fort built by the Dutch in the 1640s during their settlement period in Accra. The fort is  located on the coast. The artist took used items and “trash” and turned it into magnificent art pieces paying homage to the community of Jamestown and Ga Mashie, its fishing and religious traditions as well as highlighting its current environmental challenges.


Fashion Design
The WEB, a group of local Ghanaian designers who design tailor-made clothing and accessories, created a fashion show on the sidewalk, demonstrating the use of tradition fabric coupled with modern designs. 

Street Art
Perhaps best of all was the street art created along the major thoroughfare of Jamestown that runs along the coast. A gigantic mosquito made out of used parts, chalk paintings of fish and dragons added a vibrant color and expression and turned blank infrastructure into a canvas for community expression.

I’d heard before about these bicycle performances (and written about them in a previous post), where youth, usually young men, perform their art and perform for audiences, but this was amazing to see in person the tricks and stunts they can do. Local musicians played music to accompany their performance.