This is the beginning of a new adventure, a year long, cross generational design workshop bringing together elderly residents of Lowry House a shelter home based in Tottenham and local young people . This project is developed in partnership with Homes for haringey and with the support of the Arts Council and the Mayor of London. Inspired by El Warcha in Tunisia, this project will be an experimental ground to: learn together, build stuff and make the city a more playful environment.
In September 2016 El Warcha started has a three-month art residency with l’Art Rue. This was an opportunity to test the idea of a collaborative makerspace in the medina of Tunis. This quickly developed into a small community of people who shared an aspiration to make things happen, to build things together and to engage with the city. It literally took a village to keep it going over the last two years. Having a space open five days a week, working with children, designers, artists, inhabitants of Hafsia has made this a unique project. In two years we have built: a cradle, a coffin, a pigeon loft, a Jewish Sukkha, a chicken coop, close to one hundred chairs at least fifty tables, one sword (a theatre prop), a mobile sound system, numerous temporary broomsticks installations in the public realm, in the shape of: a ping pong table, light art installations, bins, race Karts… During the summer El Warcha made most of INTERFERENCE light art festival furnitures. In August eight of us even went to Ghana to make a Bamboo installation as part of a street art festival.
While we are still looking for a new studio space in Hafsia, we are now trying to take over the medina with bikes thanks to the support of our friends in the Netherlands. We are also testing the idea of a workshop in the Nefta region with our partner Maison de L’Image. We will soon make a call for an art residency supported by the Amercian Embassy. Parallel to this we are also hoping to open a workshop in north London based in an old people’s home. Thank you to everyone who has been contributing or supporting this project, thank you to our organisation: “Collectif Creatif” who is always behind the scene and who has made it possible to continue.
We are looking forward to more people taking over this project and making it their own.
Let the festival weekend begin! Last night we left Old Kingsway feeling tired but happy after a week of hard work. The installation, though, didn’t seem like it had reached its full potential yet: we all wished we could have had a couple more days to try different positions for the structures and for the LED lights, and to continue building on what we had found. At this stage though we just had until 2pm – when the festival was to officially kick off – to try and improve what we had made, keeping in mind that one of the key objectives we had set ourselves for this work was to create a space that would encourage encounters between people. One issue we saw with our installation as we had left it last night was that all of a sudden by adding the lighting onto the structures they seemed smaller and more purely “functional” than we had hoped. When the structures didn’t yet have lights hanging from the top bamboos they seemed much bigger, they had a more powerful presence, and they looked more abstract and less simply practical. The bamboos shooting off in different directions towards the sky gave the installation an openness and a level of abstraction that made them more open ended and awe inspiring, which made the installation on the whole something more than just interesting looking benches in the round. The challenge of El Warcha’s work is often to start from an ordinary day to day object and revisit it to get somewhere else, in this case tending towards a micro-architecture. But with the LED lights hanging from the top bamboos, as opposed to the structure feeling open and expansive, we were brought back down to earth, as the lights were hanging downwards and lighting the space below, instead of extending outwards as the bamboos had previously done. We therefore tried to find a solution to maintain the cosy and inviting atmosphere on the lower levels of the installation around the benches, while still trying to maintain the airiness and expansiveness of the broader installation, making it appear interesting also from afar.
To this end, Ben went to Old Kingsway early in the morning, followed by Aziz a bit later, to move half of the bamboo-cased-LED-lights off from the top bamboos. He hooked them instead at the bottom back of the structure, below the benches, so as to allow the lights to create big shadows on the walls and to create more texture in the bamboo by lighting it from different angles. This was a good move: it made the lighting cluster in the centre neater, it freed some bamboos at the top for them to continue tending upwards, and it made the whole installation more interesting by allowing the lighting to give it movement. TV5 Monde interviewed Ben and Aziz working at these final adjustments – Aziz (who is our youngest member, 16 years old) felt proud to have been cited as a designer in an article that later came out of this interview.
For the rest of the team it was a bit of a slow morning, catching up from yesterday’s exhaustion. Nao and Valentina seized the opportunity of a free morning before the festival to go to Osu and check out Nigerian and Ghanaian fashion at the “Elle Lokko” boutique, where they met up with Dagna, and then took a taxi to La Township to see Serge Attukwei Clottey’s installation. Before heading into the neighbourhood where the installation spread through the narrow streets and houses, we checked out the Artists Alliance Gallery, where loads of works are exposed alongside each other, with no apparent curation, but with a lot of energy – it feels almost overwhelming to walk through so many works on display in this three-storey building by the ocean.
Serge’s studio is also his family home and, for the purpose of today’s exhibition, it was easily findable by following a “carpet” on the main dirt path of La Township made of yellow and orange plastic squares sown together with metal that lead into his lane. Along this yellow plastic carpet, houses, walls and windows were also covered in multi-coloured plastic that created an almost textile quality, as if they were covered in blankets. In his studio hang large square and rectangular assemblages of plastic – those made from plastic tanks from the back looked like animal skins. Several men were walking around with earrings and with square bits of yellow plastic braided into their hair. Photos printed on A4 paper were glued onto the walls of houses. There was a waterfall of yellow plastic flowing into the open-sewers. Serge was meant to activate the space through a performance. We waited almost an hour for this activation, expectation building and falling rhythmically throughout the wait. We had to go before Serge started – Silvia, an art curator working in Canada we met a couple of days back through Nao – later told us that he only got going at 1pm. Good thing we didn’t wait, since Chale Wote called us to make sure we’d be by our work in Olds Kingsway at around 2pm for the President’s visit.
On our way back to James Town all five of us squeezed into a taxi – at a traffic light another driver shouted out his window at ours: “you should send yourself to the police station: overload!” We passed by advertisements for different churches and banks, posters with pictures of women nominated for best teacher of the year, a billboard saying “More kicks than Jackie Chan – Watch Premier League for free”. We ask the boys what they miss most about Tunisia, now that our journey is almost over and they are about to go back home. “ummi”, “dog”, “pigeons”. Yusif: “everything”. And where shall we go next? Yusif again: “Tokyo”.
When we get to James Town, Chale Wote is in full swing and the streets are packed – it is also possibly the hottest day since we got here. Never seen so many people at an art festival, the mood is more that of a carnival, with people coming to walk through the main street of the festival very well (and, some, eccentrically) dressed for the occasion, and clowns and men on stilts parading up and down. We need to watch out as we walk slowly through the crowd not to lose each other, and we also need to stay alert to avoid getting run over by the biker policemen who are dividing the crowds to make way for the president’s car: he is coming. We walk past groups huddled around children boxing (like the other day in Old Kingsway), an arm-wrestling stand, myriad food and souvenir/artisans’ stands selling jewellery, fabrics, bags, dresses and more, improvised artists offering to do face paint for passers-by or painting children all white (the latter idea might have been inspired by a performance art stunt from previous Chale Wote editions, revisited and repurposed this year to ask journalists and obroni for money for taking pictures of the white-painted children). Everything and everyone could be art.
We were almost in James Fort when the president finally arrived, closer to 5pm than 2pm. We couldn’t enter the fort to see the performances scheduled to be happening there then because it was shut off for the president, so we went to the Mantse’s palace’s field (entrance through two lion statues) where a “cook off” open air food hall had been organised, and where a big stage had emerged with live music. We found red velvet pancakes and ate several. And so it was that we ended up missing both the president and the performances, but the guys didn’t: Mohammed, Hedi and Lotfi saw him and even sang a song of dissent in Arabic as he was passing by (unclear why). One of the festival organisers told us that the security men of the president had gone to Brazil House before his arrival and had tried to censor some of the art on display which comprised of photos of transsexual persons. The curators politely declined to take the art down, and managed to stand their ground. As we were making our way through the crowd back to Old Kingsway a journalist stopped Valentina and asked: “Is this your first time at the festival? Do you believe in love at first sight?” After having checked out the vibe around our structure, as we were walking towards the James Town post office, two pick-up cars filled with people wearing red t-shirts with a man’s face on them, one of the cars carrying a coffin, passed by heading at full speed in the direction of Old Kingsway. It was a funeral that decided to join the festival.
We escaped the intenseness of the festival for a while to go to an exhibition opening at the Kempinski Hotel, at the “Gallery 1957”. The exhibition was called “Dreams from the Deep End”, by artist Modupeola Fadugba, and was inspired by research with a team of elderly swimmers in a public swimming pool in Harlem, New York. Some of the work was film material – our favourite part – while some of the paintings were more figurative, others more abstract. Some of the paintings were burnt in various points. Yusif felt that meant the broken hopes of the swimmers, Nao saw in it only decoration, Dagna read it as fate and vanishing, like water which comes and goes, this is what the burnt paper evoked for her. The exhibition opening was in a lavish building, and was populated by hipster types, some wearing Thomas Sankara inspired revolutionary berets, others in fancier dresses. We gorged on the generous reception offering sushi, small pizzas, Asian inspired canapés, ice cream, and the open bar serving Mohitos and Manhattans, only to then also decide head to dinner Chez Clarisse. There we joined tables with the “curators on safari” (their words) who had been invited by the owner of the Kempinski to attend this exhibition, Serge’s installation this morning, Chale Wote, and to give talks and meet different West African artists. This art world seemed quite detached and different from the one we had been in touch with during Chale Wote, another world to the one of wall painting in James Town and engagement with inhabitants that the festival promotes.
We went back to Old Kingsway at around 11pm to check out the vibe around our installation and found it in darkness – our LED lights were off. We asked a cleaner sweeping the floor around our structures what had happened, and he explained that he wanted to clean but people were sitting on the structures and not wanting to leave, so he just decided to cut our wire. He told us not to worry, that he’d fix it for the next day, but we explained that the whole point of the installation was for people to enjoy the space below it at night as well. As we assessed the damage, worrying that we’d have to buy another domino or rewire the entire structure (which had taken us hours of work perched on top of the scaffolding seen the size of our installation), Kwaku came to the rescue. He turned off the electricity first, and then managed to tie back together the live wires that had been cut and that had until then been lying dangerously on the ground. He agreed that it was a shame that our wire got sectioned, the point of the festival is for people to enjoy these spaces and the art, the man could have just asked him or the boxer (our electricity provider) to turn off the electricity instead of going ahead and sectioning our wire. By the time we left, hamdullah, the sweeping work was over, and the LED lights were back on, James Town still buzzing.
El Warcha fi telvsa! TV time for Ben and Mohammed, who woke up at 6:00am, ready to head to the Citi TV headquarters, only to find once we got there that we would be on-air at 9:30am. Valentina went to fetch breakfast – egg and bread and Nescafé poured into transparent sachets for takeaway purposes – as Nao filmed the guys getting their make-up done for the big screen. We were interviewed as part of a program called “Breakfast Daily” together with another artist, Lesley Asare, who was also participating in Chale Wote, and Josh, one of the curators of the festival. Ben’s shoes had been destroyed by the week’s work sessions, so he wore his chale wote (meaning flip flops/shleka) to the Chale Wote TV interview (for the record, apart from flip flops, chale wote also means “hey man, let’s go!”). Sitting on a colourful couch, ignoring the bustle going on beyond the reach of cameras and microphones (who would have guessed that a TV set could be so busy and noisy), the presenter asked both Lesley and the Warcha boys about their respective projects for the festival and their work more generally. Lesley will be performing in Ussher Fort on Saturday afternoon. She is a UK based artist, but her grandma is Ga, and so for the festival she will be channelling her grandma’s stories to create a painting through movement. To close the interview, the presenter asked Ben and Mohammed what the most surprising thing about their experience in Ghana had been:
“Now both of you, is this your first time in West Africa? What are some shocking things you discovered, aside the food, everybody says the food.”
“I guess we’ve been surprised by the energy. We’ve been in James Town for over a week now and there’s so much energy, it’s amazing. And, well, we get woken up quite early, but at the same time it feels really alive and powerful.”
“Now you” – she said turning to Mohammed, who had been a bit shy, but the presenter wasn’t going to let him off the hook – “What made you come here to begin with?”
“I was interested in the festival, it’s my first time outside Tunisia, and Ben”
The boys made us proud.
Back in Old Kingsway, back to work. We first moved the structures towards one corner of the space and positioned them in a semi-circle: their final placement for the festival weekend. The effect we were going for was the chill-out zone that we had talked about with Nii yesterday, creating a more intimate space. Seen the amount of people who were already starting to gather in the streets, we felt that this was the best solution for our structure to integrate with the other activities that will be going on in Old Kingsway, and with the over-crowdedness that was sure to come. The semi-circle also allowed for the LED lights to be suspended close to one another in the middle, a similar effect to the circle position we had tried before, which will look even better in the evening with the lights on. The rest of the morning was spent making and hanging the bamboo casings for the LED lights to be suspended in. As we were starting the cabling, a boxing match broke out in Old Kingsway. We had been focused on work so hadn’t seen it coming, but suddenly a big number of people had assembled in the round to watch two young boys with boxing gloves compete. Parents and adults were taking pictures on their phones, as the boys’ friends cheered them on. We took our lunch break quite late, at 3pm, feeling like we were almost there.
When we returned to the space after lunch, the festival atmosphere was definitely starting to kick in. On the sidewalk just outside the entrance to Old Kingsway, where Kwaku usually lines up a couple of the sofas he has just finished making for passers-by to admire and potentially purchase, several food stalls were already doing good business. The streets were a lot more crowded, with “brofonio hipsters” peering into the space to see what we were up to, and the team getting regularly interrupted in the electrical work by people posing on our installation and asking them to join in the pictures. “I’m so tired of the photos”, sighs Hedi, who, perhaps because of his newly braided hair, gets asked to appear in selfies more frequently than the other guys. By 6pm, when the drizzle that had been accompanying our work for most of the day took a break, the place was packed with people, and it was becoming more and more difficult to finish the cabling. Valentina and Wilson pulled apart the benches that had been made the previous day to be able to re-use the black rope, which was running out. The top bamboos of our structures had been gradually lowering as the rope that held them up got wet with rain, making the bamboo cases with the LED lights dangle a bit too close to people’s heads. The team moved metal scaffolding next to each structure to tighten the ropes and hoist the bamboos up again – a task made dangerously shaky by children doing acrobatics on the bases of the scaffolding while the boys were standing on them to reach the top bamboos. A new self-appointed sovereign came to us during these operations to request payment for using what he claimed was his scaffolding. By now though we had become skilled in dealing with these “sovereigns”: we just called a more powerful man in to deal with the situation. At the end of the hoisting, Yusif captured our exhausted spirits when, sitting on the bench of one of the structures, staring blankly ahead while several kids were jumping up and down around him, he sardonically said: “life is horrible”. But eventually we made it. By 9pm the structures were all still standing despite lots of people leaning and sitting on them, the bamboos with the LEDs were still hanging high above the crowd, and the lights were all on. It looked and felt magical.
To celebrate we went back to the stand near Brazil House we had gone to on Day 2, at the very beginning of this adventure, to relax with beers and skewers. We took down the names of the songs whose tunes had by now become an essential part of our Ghana experience: the CCTV song by King Promise and Sarkodie, Shatte Wale’s song “I’m a bad goat, brabrabrabra” (it disappointingly doesn’t actually say that, the song is called StarBoy), Ebony’s Maame Ha3, Sponsor, Market Song, Mr Eazi Pour me watah. Dagna, Valentina and Faidal (who regularly comes to see how our work is proceeding) then went to check out the Masquerade Ball organised by Chale Wote – we’ve sadly been missing out on most events in order to finish the installation. The party was already over when they got to the National Theatre though, so instead they went bar-hopping in Osu, and ended up eating poisoned noodles in Oxford Street at 2am.
Only one day left to get our installation built: the pressure is on! Ben and Aziz, who had worked until midnight last night, were back in Old Kingsway by 9am. One hour later they had already managed to get another structure standing, and were joined by the rest of the team. We now have three structures in the space – one is completely finished, while the other two still need work to create seating at the bottom and to integrate the wiring for the LED lights. Seeing the three structures standing is impressive, and we can already imagine all the different possibilities for positioning them in relation to one another so as to create different kinds of shapes and spaces. The morning proceeded with Lotfi and Yusif making the benches at the base of the second structure, Aziz fixing the benches on the third structure, and Hedi and Mohammed making more profiles for the remaining two structures. We were all helped by the children and teenagers who hang around Old Kingsway, who contributed in all aspects of the building process, from carrying bamboo to cutting it with the saws, from tightening cable ties and ropes to propping up the structures.
People passing by Old Kingsway are also starting to ask us more questions now, since our work has become more visible. A recurrent question is what the point of our work is, our goal. One passer-by wondered if we were building a robot. Nao, who is documenting the process by taking photos and videos, and so has a bit more time to talk to visitors than the boys, usually replies that these structures will be left here for the community to take care of or modify as they see fit. People seem happily surprised to hear this. An architecture student who just finished her studies came by, and after hearing about the project decided she will join us tomorrow with working clothes. Some also wonder where we got the bamboo from and how much it cost, since they don’t usually see it used in this way, and very few people know that there is a wood yard close-by, just behind the Methodist Church. In the afternoon we met a group of primary school teachers on holiday, who came to do a photoshoot before the madness of the festival kicked in, to then prepare an exhibition on walls of their classrooms. They discussed the pedagogical aspects of the project with Ben, and were impressed to see so many young people from the neighbourhood helping us and getting involved. We also had a visit from one of the young architects who is doing an internship next door, at Joe Addo’s (known by the children as Mr White, since he always wears white) James Town Café (where Valentina and Nao sometimes sit to work on the blog, since it is handily positioned right next to Old Kingsway, and sometimes, magically, has coffee). His name is Jeffrey, he is Cameroonian but lives in Togo where he studies architecture. He was curious to check out what we were doing, and asked if we had designed the installation before arriving or whether we had thought it up on the spot. He was inspired by what we had achieved in such a short period of time. He joined us in securing the feet of the structure so that the weight of it was better distributed and didn’t put too much strain on just one bamboo.
Now that we are taking up more space and big structures are emerging, people with whom we have been working over the past days are also becoming more curious, and are joining us in thinking through what our installation could become. One of the children who has been helping us every day, called Eric, says he likes the structures we made because they remind him of goal posts, and he has enjoyed doing this work because you can exercise your body at the same time. Eric yesterday was wearing a Twenty One Pilots t-shirt – Yusif has enjoyed spotting the t-shirts of bands he approves of around James Town, like Metallica, Slayer, Linkin Park. Another regular participant, called Daniel, who is 11, said he liked this work because now that he knows what it’s about he can do it in the future. He also found it good to be able to sit on the benches and take your time, surrounded by wall paintings to look at.
Wilson, who is 14, has also been a precious co-worker over the past week, and had introduced Ben and Aziz to his mother’s work place, an open-air bakery just behind Kwaku’s sofa making workshop, from the very first day. Today Nao and Valentina went to visit it too, and got to taste different types of bread warm from the oven. Wilson gave us a tour of the rooms where the bread and baking utensils are stored, and explained to us the process of baking in the impressive clay oven that takes centre stage in the space. His favourite bread is butter bread, because of the colour and because he feels good when he eats it. We had to try, so we bought one, and Wilson’s mom gave us sugar bread to taste as a gift. We also met several of Wilson’s mom’s colleagues, one of which was called Spendy, “because she spends a lot”, jokes Wilson. Spendy explains that that is not the reason behind her name: she was named Spendy because she will share what she has, she will enjoy it together with others. Another colleague, named Cecilia, burst into laughter when she heard that Valentina’s sister has the same name: “an obroni Cecilia!” Wilson’s family and the other workers at the bakery all come from the interior of the country, about a 10 hours bus ride, they only go visit once a year, says Wilson. Before they used to live in another part of James Town, but now their home is here, behind the door in the wall of Old Kingsway that had first lead us a week ago to Kwaku’s workshop to negotiate our presence in this space. Wilson tells us that the rest of the year Old Kingsway is our park, it’s where we play football and see friends. There are also people who come here to shoot music videos, and so they have to pay, but to play football it’s free. Faidal also told us about Old Kingsway’s fame in music videos, and said that he will be on the lookout and will send us videos that have the Warcha installation in them.
Concert organiser Nii (also referred to in the previous post as Leeds Nii) came to the space twice today with Mr Table, a record label producer, and Mr Naughty, the artist who will be working with them to create the set for the concerts over the weekend. He was pleased to see the installation, and loved the LED lights enclosed in the bamboo – he will have to fight it out with Kwaku to see who gets to keep them after the festival (Ben has already told Kwaku, who has been very kind and helpful throughout, that he will leave the structure to him after the festival). Nii agreed that our structures can stay in one side of the space, opposite where they are planning on building the set, and can be a sort of chill out zone, “maybe we should name it something-lounge”. Nii had already told the Chale Wote organisers he was happy to keep our structures here, he told them the plastic chairs they were thinking of bringing in for the concerts can stay out and the structures remain. This information, though, had not trickled down to Kwaku, who was concerned that the “landlord” of the space would want us out. The “landlord” did indeed later come by to ask us what was going on and how come we were still here. Nii managed to sort it all out, he thankfully knew the man from before and explained the situation. Meanwhile in the afternoon another self-appointed sovereign of the space decided to place a pink bucket at the entrance to Old Kingsway and ask people for donations to be able to come in. We only found out because a tourist came to ask us how much she should put in the bucket. One of the wall painting artists got very angry with the self-appointed sovereign, and got him to get rid of his pink bucket and leave.
By 4pm all of our five structures were standing, despite the space being full of people coming and going, making it tricky to coordinate ourselves in the chaos. The final effect of our installation will feel a bit like a pavilion: the idea so far is that the structures will be placed in a circular shape, facing inwards, with benches at the base and LEDs enclosed in bamboo hanging from the end of the top bamboos, creating a lights cluster in the centre of the circular space. Ben wondered if we should attach fabric strips in between the top bamboos to create shade for people sitting below. In the end we decided against it, as fabric would introduce a whole new material to the structure, and it would also somehow anchor it more in the world of functional objects, instead of letting the open ended, expansive shape created by the bamboo shooting off in different directions take us elsewhere. One aspect of the work that we could have perhaps done more of, but which turned out to be too difficult to organise while being busy creating the installation, was devising design and building activities for the children to do alongside our work. In the end children and teenagers were involved in helping us in creating and thinking through the structure, but not all were involved at all times and the stimulus of what to do came from us – it would have been interesting to have them create something of their own as well. It was also on a practical level difficult to work while also trying to involve a big number of younger people. For next time we could think of strategies for better organising the time and giving different groups responsibilities for creating different things.
We had dinner at Osikan, the fish restaurant by the ocean that we had gone to on our very first stroll in James Town, Wilson came with us too. The boys have been eating mostly bananas for dinner over the past few days – 4 bananas for 1 cedi, they couldn’t believe it – so it was good to have a change tonight, especially after a long day of work. The Warcha team then stayed out until 1am working in Old Kingsway. The goal for the night session was to only leave small touch-ups for tomorrow, since Nii would have to build the set in Old Kingsway and the festival preparations will be under way. The team managed to triangulate the feet to make the structures more stable, and to add bamboos to triangulate and support other parts of the structure. They then tested the lights, wrapped the LEDs in transparent plastic to protect them from the rain, put them into the bamboos and hung them, and then thought of how to work the electricity around the structure. That will be tomorrow’s challenge.
Today the El Warcha team was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion at the National Theatre at 1pm. We didn’t have much time to work in the morning, so, with heavy hearts, we focused on finding a potential new space for our installation. After almost daily negotiations with both local “landlords” and the festival organisers (who would have rather have us work in Ussher Fort – a solution which didn’t suit us because it is not in the public space), the festival warned us that we will have to move our installation out on Friday lunch time after all. The reason for this is that Old Kingsway will be used for concerts over the weekend, and the festival organisers couldn’t negotiate for us to stay because these concerts are not directly organised by them. It’s a shame to have to displace our bamboo structures from where we have been conceiving and building them, but better be prepared and try and find a good alternative. Having tested placing the structures in the street along the wall of Ussher Fort yesterday night, and having realised it didn’t have the effect we wanted, Ben and Aziz went looking for a more open space where the structures could stand out more. In the meantime, Mohammed and Yusif went to Old Kingsway to fix our lighting issues. At 11am we receive a message from Yusif: “it works”. The LED tubes are lit, hamdullah.
At midday we set off for the National Theatre. Last night Mohammed prepared a little speech to explain the work of El Warcha in Tunis, and to give a taster of our work so far in James Town. After watching two documentaries from the Black Filmmakers Film Festival, it was our turn to take to the stage. Paul, the moderator of the discussion, had a substantial list of questions for us. Ben and Mohammed gave stellar performances, taking the audience through pictures of our different projects in Tunis, from the very first Warcha space in the Hafsia square in 2016, to what our base looks like now. “Warcha in Arabic means a space you can work in”, explains Mohamed. In answer to what the most challenging aspect of running El Warcha is, Ben answered that it is the collaborative work. The challenge lies in how to make decisions together, how not to let one’s ego and vision determine the path (a much easier choice which many artists working with communities opt for), how to create a horizontal working environment, how to manage the project as a group. Ben says that now, having moved back to London, he has become a “critical friend” of El Warcha, and hopes that those in Tunis will create their own versions of Warcha and take it in new directions. The major vision for the project, as Paul summarised it, is the collaboration, it is striving to create as designers spaces of interaction and spaces of experimentation. Paul and the audience were also interested in how the project came to be financed, and asked about the steps and resilience it takes to find pockets of money and to build from the bottom up. We also discussed the difficulties in self-financing the project by being paid for commissions. El Warcha has had several commissions in the past two years, and is now funding 20% of its activities through them, which is a great achievement. But, Ben pointed out, a balance needs to be found between doing repetitive work for commissions and meeting deadlines, and maintaining the open ended, creative, prototyping trial and error aspect of the project, which is what draws most participants to join us in the first place. We also talked about the question of what is considered art, and the focus on the product versus the process: we are all curious to see how our installation will be received.
In the afternoon, as the Warcha boys were busy constructing the crosses that would connect two profiles and make them stand, Valentina, Faidal (who had just popped by, since he lives down the road) and Dagna went to meet Nii: a new Nii. Nii is the founder of the community radio, and is the older brother of the Nii who on Day 1 had greeted us at the theatre and had shown us around while we were waiting for another Nii, who does theatre of the oppressed work in James Town, to arrive. Incidentally, the younger brother Nii was also the one who had negotiated a good price for us to stay in Evelyn Hotel. The older brother Nii, whom we were going to meet now, lives between London, Leeds, and Accra. Dagna had met this Nii at Chale Wote four years ago, and was excited to see him again, since his arrival to Accra last Friday was a surprise. When we got to the theatre, we saw theatre of the oppressed Nii, who said that he was unsurprised at Leeds Nii’s surprise appearance at Homowo on Friday, since Nii periodically makes these kinds of arrivals.
What was surprising, though, and what made for a really positive coincidence, was that Leeds Nii turned out to be the person in charge of the concerts in Old Kingsway, and so was the man we needed in order to be able to leave our structures there. We explained to him what we were up to in Old Kingsway and the structures that we were busy making, and that for us it would make a lot more sense to have them there during the concerts, since it is the space where we created them. Leeds Nii understood and was really positive: he said we would find a solution for our structures and his concerts to coexist in the space. Maybe the structures could become part of the set, or maybe they could be on the side as chill-out zones (since our installations include seating spaces). We all set off to Old Kingsway for Nii to see the structures, and to give the boys the good news of not having to look for a new space anymore.
When we got there one structure was finished and standing. Ben told Nii that we are aiming to make five structures in total like that one, with a seating space below and lights dangling from the highest bamboos. We agreed that we could make it work with the concerts, Nii is planning to build a 15 feet by 15 feet stage in the shape of a radio, which he will be making on Friday. We can see how things evolve and take it from there. Massive relief not to have to look for a new space, and to be able to stay in Old Kingsway, the space where all was made possible.
We took a break at 7pm, but Aziz and Ben went back to Old Kingsway after just one hour to keep going in a cooler and less crowded atmosphere – the installation still needs to be finished by Friday, so intense work mode is on. Nao, Dagna and Valentina, however, will get back on it tomorrow. We went to hipster Osu to listen to some live music at a bar called Republic. The night was full of “simple love songs”, in the words of one of the singers.
Eidkum Mabrouk! This morning there were a lot of cows being led around the maze of small streets that make up James Town to be sacrificed, especially around Zongo Lane, where the Muslim community reside. On our way to Old Kingsway at 10am we passed by men and women impeccably dressed in white – the colour of festivities, whether it be the Ga Homowo or the Muslim Eid – heading to visit family to wish them happy Eid. We resorted to joyous, albeit somewhat nostalgic for the boys, rounds of phone calls to families and friends in Tunisia throughout the day.
When we got to Old Kingsway the children were waiting, ready to get back to work on the benches they had started having a go at fixing yesterday. “We have a problem: this bench is not stable. Can you fix the problem?” Ben gave them a few tips, after which the children set off their day of trial and error, of assembling and taking apart the material, to achieve a stable bench. The work kept them entertained during both the morning and afternoon sessions, with a stable bench gloriously emerging at dusk.
While yesterday our work focused on the scale of furniture – making different seating objects out of the bamboos – today the Warcha team decided to take it to the next level: the architectural scale. Different teams started making shapes on the ground with the bamboos, to then tie them together with cable ties and small pieces of black rope (the cable ties alone were not strong enough), and finally raise them vertically to assess what the shape looks like standing. Lotfi worked alone on triangular shapes, testing different sizes and versions. The others worked on more abstract assemblages. Once satisfactory structure shapes were found, the teams went on to replicate them, creating profiles of structure that could be replicated and used as bases for a bigger architectural installation. Before breaking off for lunch the team attached two matching profiles to the sides of the metal scaffolding that the graffiti artists had been using. The effect of the two tall, identical structures standing next to one another made us feel like today we had earned a good break.
At lunch time it started raining, first in a drizzle, then more heavily. At Backpass restaurant, which is an open-air terrace, we had to move tables and huddle close to one another to avoid getting drenched. Shatta Wale’s music playing in the background fused with the rhythm of the rain crashing on the colourful plastic tables. Hedi wasn’t feeling well, he had a headache and felt confused, maybe a bit homesick too, so he stayed in his room to rest with Mohammed, and we all took a break to wait for the rain to stop. Nao and Valentina then went to check out the talks and film screenings going on as part of Chale Wote at the National Theatre, since Ben and the boys had to go buy electrical equipment and more rope. The National Theatre is an enormous white building with interesting architectural twists, shaped like the point of a boat, containing lots of different spaces where various events seemed to be happening at the same time. Where Chale Wote had set up tent we watched a documentary on women using skin bleaching/whitening products in different African countries, and met up with Dagna, who came back to Old Kingsway with us at the end of the screening. As we were looking for a taxi a group of young boys asked Nao: “Are you a player?” It wasn’t the first time she was assumed to be a “player” here in Ghana, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Before returning to the space, Valentina and Dagna went to pick up Faidal, a good friend of Dagna’s, originally from Northern Ghana, who is involved in local politics. Faidal lives in a building that feels very much like the building where Lotfi’s family live in the Hafsia. We climb up a shaky wooden ladder to the roof terrace of the crumbling building, much like last January Lotfi had lead us up the half-broken stone stairwell to his own rooftop in the Medina of Tunis. From Faidal’s roof we can see the whole of James Town, the ocean with its waves and fishermen boats, and the smoke rising from the plastic and e-waste recycling sites. We chatted with Faidal about the similarities between the Medina of Tunis and James Town, both being the historic hearts of these capital cities, both to different extents plagued by overcrowding, poor plumbing and old buildings in dire need of maintenance, but also both vibrant neighbourhoods full of young people where lots of new initiatives are taking shape.
In the meantime in Old Kingsway the night was starting to fall, and the Warcha team were testing what the profiles they had made might look like if they were to be lined up along the majestic white outer walls of Ussher Fort. During the weekend, which is the highpoint of the Chale Wote festival, the whole street perpendicular to the coast line that goes from Brazil House on one end to Old Kingsway on the other will be shut off from traffic. Festival goers will be able to walk freely from art work to art work, from concert to concert. Ben therefore wanted to test what the structures might look like if we took them to the street, what kind of perspective the profiles might be able to create if they were lined up along the wall of the Fort. This could have been a fun solution to also use the LEDs and make an intervention in the street.
While we were testing though we realised that in terms of lighting there were already a lot of street lights on in the street, and so our LEDs built into the bamboo structures would have had little effect. We also realised that the bamboo structures, which looked tall and impressive inside Old Kingsway, all of a sudden looked small and underwhelming when positioned against the wall of the fort. They kind of lost their magic in the street. Tomorrow we will need to talk to the festival organisers to try and see if we can remain in Old Kingsway during the weekend. Chale Wote told us that this was the space designed for us to work in, but that over the weekend other artist collectives not directly linked to Chale Wote were planning concerts there, and so we would have had to move our installation to somewhere else. We are hoping to be able to negotiate with the concerts organisers to be able to stay, since it would be a shame to have to uproot the structures we built in this space to somewhere else. Tomorrow we will also have to work on triangulation to make the structures stand independently, and on trying to solve the problem with the LEDs and the electricity, which still don’t seem to work.
The working day ended at around 9pm, and we left Old Kingsway in a much quieter state than it had been in during the day. There were still some people lingering though, small groups who have become a constant presence in the space at all hours of the day: young and old selfie lovers, who pilgrimage their ways to Old Kingsway to carry out photoshoots against the backdrop of the new wall paintings. Now that our first structures are up, they are starting to become part of these photoshoots too. We went to eat delicious groundnut soup in a small shop in the cluster of party streets of James Town. Walking around there at night feels like a journey through myriad open-air clubs, a concentrated Ibiza feel to people’s swagger and sudden bursts into dance, the music so loud it is impossible to have a conversation, all we can do is just be, unwind.
First official day of the Chale Wote festival. Nao and Valentina went to fetch the artist and press badges in the morning at Brazil House – the festival headquarters, from which a procession of artists will take off this afternoon to launch the festival. The curators were finishing setting up art works along the walls, since as from today the building will hold the Shika Shika Art Fair. We have stocked all of our bamboo in Ussher Fort, which neighbours Old Kingsway, the space where we will be working. Badges and bamboo in hand, we were ready for our first day of work.
10am. We held our first group meeting in Old Kingsway, sitting on our bamboo, to discuss how to proceed this week and what kind of structure we were most interested in building in this space. Hedi and Aziz both voiced wanting to build something for the children to enjoy, like constructing a playground, as a way to launch our presence in the space, and to get people to know us and understand the kind of design work we do. Nao yesterday had proposed the idea of building goal posts as a first construction exercise, since we noticed in the past days that Old Kingsway is already used as a football pitch by children and teenagers. After some thought though the team divided into three groups of two and each set out to build a bench or a chair for this space. All were inspired by chairs and benches we had seen in the past days in Accra, such as the chief’s stool, which Mohamed and Aziz attempted replicating in their own way, or a chair we saw at yesterday’s restaurant (an open doors boxing club that also sells fried chicken and pizza) that was made up of two pieces of wood fixed into each other, which Lotfi and Hedi were inspired by. The children who were hanging around Old Kingsway soon became interested by what the different teams were doing, and participated in holding down bamboos while they were being sowed, or in tightening cable ties. At the end of the morning session the boys handed over their creations to the children for them to try sitting on, and asked them whether they felt the benches were stable or comfortable enough, and whether they wanted to take them apart and embark on new creations themselves.
For lunch we went to Backpass, the restaurant just in front of our hotel, where Valentina and Nii, the festival volunteer who is helping us, negotiated a good discount with the lovely manager, Madame Nana. While waiting for the good we went through our thoughts on starting our working week on the scale of furniture, which is something the Warcha team are all very used to, since in the Hafsia a lot of our work has been based on creating furniture for the public space or for indoor commissions, like the Maison de l’Image project. We agreed that it was a good starting point, but felt that the material we were working with, the bamboos, required bigger and perhaps more architectural structures to be built. The bamboos are 4m tall, and are strong, they can hold a shape well. We resolved to move onto making larger structural profiles tomorrow, while in the afternoon we focused on trying to negotiate electricity access in the space and testing possibilities with the LED lights.
First though we headed to Brazil House for the opening of the festival. Ga priestesses and men dressed in all white clothes lead the way through James Town. Hedi was the only one amongst us who had white trousers, shoes and t-shirt, he look perfect, selfie-ready, while the rest of us did our best to dress in light clothes. The procession was set off by a group of traditional dancers singing and dancing to live music just in front of Brazil House, who then followed the procession, gave it rhythm and momentum. The group stopped every now and again for rituals, but there were too many people for us to see what was happening. On our way several people said hello to Aziz – everyone remembers his name – and Hedi got to say hello to the hairdressers who did his braids a couple of nights ago. We took off at around 5:30pm to continue our work in Old Kingsway, leaving festival participants and artists to enjoy the Sika Sika Art Fair which we had managed to check out in the morning.
The work in the afternoon and evening was a bit bumpy, with different men showing up in Old Kingsway at various points and claiming sovereignty over it, and therefore explanation of our presence and payment in exchange for allowing it. Kwaku, the owner of the sofa workshop just behind Old Kingsway with whom we had already spoken about working here, wasn’t there to let them know of the agreement that we had come to. Each time a new person came to question our presence we therefore had to interrupt our work and try to appease them. There also seemed to be no way around paying for the electricity to start testing our LEDs, so Ben gave the man 10 cedis, for which Kwaku scolded him when he returned and heard about our misadventures. Once the electricity was secured though we still couldn’t get the LEDs to work, and there were too many people in the space for us to be able to work properly, too many distractions and movement to focus. We left slightly demoralised. Yusif will call his dad, who is an electrician, tomorrow to try and figure out what the issue with the LEDs might be.
Dinner in hipster neighbourhood Osu, Chez Clarisse, for a tilapia Ivorian style and avocado salad for Valentina and Dagna, pizza at the boxing club for everyone else.
Umurna mrigla. Exploring other neighbourhoods in Accra on Saturday, travelling to Cape Coast and Elmina on Sunday.
Saturday morning Ben and Aziz went to buy smaller sized bamboos for the installation at the market we had checked out yesterday with Dagna. They bought 50 4m long bamboos with a smaller diameter to add to the 110 3.20m long bamboos with a larger diameter that they had bought yesterday from Adolf. We then all followed the second day of festivities for Homowo around James Town. Mantse – chiefs – went around homes in their parts of the neighbourhood followed by family members often dressed in red t-shirts with a photo of the chief’s face on them. Drumming and singing lead us through the streets. When the festive procession got to people’s houses the chiefs sprinkled palm nut soup for the ancestors, to then move on to the next house.
In the afternoon we took a trotro to Osu and found the coffee we had all been craving for. The neighbourhood has several juice and coffee hipster spots, and seems a lot more sparsely populated than James Town. After coffee we went to check out the arts market near the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial, where we talked to drum makers who were finishing a big order to send to the USA. In the meantime, Hedi, Yusif, Mohamed and Lotfi were sharing drumming skills and rhythms with vendors in another part of the arts market. They were invited in to make music when one of the vendors told Yusif “you look like a beat producer”. This description resonated with Yusif, who followed him to his shop to play together with the rest of the guys.
We called it a day after a night stroll in James Town in the densely busy streets, different music blasting every couple of metres, people eating and drinking and dancing, attending concerts, gathering around in circles to watch dancing and young people doing bicycle tricks, everyone partying and celebrating Homowo in their own way, through the night.
Sunday we took off on Miss Taxi’s bus (sadly without Miss Taxi, we will hopefully meet her another time) at 8:30am for Cape Coast. At a red light we were tempted to buy “Burkina” – a yoghurt from Burkina Faso with muesli type grains in it – after being told by the vendor that “if you drink one you drink plenty”. Sadly the bus had to follow the traffic. The large urban expanse of Accra gradually gave way to lush forests with towering trees and younger banana trees, the greenery spotted every now and again by red earth coloured mounds created by termites. When we got to Cape Coast, which used to be the capital of Ghana before it got moved by the British to Accra, we went to eat vegan food in a cooperative restaurant called Baobab House.
We then visited the slave castle. We were about twenty people on the guided tour, apart from us most of the visitors were Ghanaian (in Elmina there were American and Nigerian visitors as well). The guide explained how the slave trade was run here, how people were kept for months in dungeons in almost total darkness with very little ventilation, like sardines, forced to eat, sleep and defecate in the same squeezed spot, the floor we were walking on was formed as a result of layers of those inhumane conditions. Directly above the dungeons were the church and the living and administrative quarters of the slave traders. The Ghanaian visitors were dismayed that the church was directly above the male dungeon, and asked the guide how the church authorities let it happen. Lotfi didn’t join us on our trip today, he wasn’t feeling well, but Ben was wearing his blue baseball hat. When we got to the door to the tunnel that lead people to the door of no return, now sealed, the animist priest carried out a ritual to wish all visitors all the best, and to remember those who perished here. He took Lotfi’s hat and placed it on the altar of the shrine – despite not being here, a trace from Lotfi was left behind. The slaves who died were thrown at sea, while the slave traders, the occasional wife who visited from England, and the children the men had with local women, who in turn became slave traders (like Philip Kwaku, who went on to build the first school outside of a slave castle) are buried in the castle, in the space between the dungeons and the fresh air that for hundreds of years was only available to very few.
After, we drove to Elmina, the other big slave castle. In the museum of Cape Coast castle, maps of the coast show how dotted it was with slave trade castles and forts, the slaver nations being perpetually paranoid of attacks from all sides. There were also maps explaining how far back other forms of slave trade dated between Africa, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, routes and trades that included Tunisia. A director of the slave trading business originally from Zeelandt, in the Netherlands, is buried in the square of Elmina castle. “He was a God fearing slave trader”, bitterly jokes our guide. Writings in Dutch, who were the ones who captured the castle from the Portuguese, who had previously imported Catholicism along with the slave trade to West Africa, appear on various walls, reminding them of their switch to Protestantism. Flowers brought from descendants of slaves line the walls of the room that precedes a slim rectangular fissure in the stone wall: the door of no return.
9am start. Woke up after a bumpy night, with the street music, call to prayer and charismatic preachers competing for the title of loudest hotel room guest. Malaria pills swallowed, we kicked off the day by heading on a market research trip. The aim was to get a sense of costs and of what material was out there that we might want to play around with for building our installation for Chale Wote. In preparation for our work here, Hedi, Lotfi, Aziz, Yusif and Mohamed had been making prototypes in the streets of the Hafsia (Tunis) of amphitheatre shaped structures using plastic chairs, cables and wooden broomsticks. Dagna, our Ghana based anthropologist friend, had already thought about the different sites near James Town where we might be able to find these materials, so she lead us through our scouting session.
Yesterday Mohamed had spotted outside his hotel window that a construction site was using bamboo for the scaffolding. Our first stop on our tour was therefore to this building site, to try and figure out how much bamboo costs and whether it is a relatively easy material to find around here. We were greeted by the construction site’s manager, who introduced himself as both Adolf and Nii Boi. He was wearing pin striped suit trousers revealing only the tips of pointy shoes, a black shirt, and dark sunglasses rimmed with golden jaguars. We told him that we are participating in a festival and are looking for material to construct installations, and are interested in using bamboo. He explained to us that the cost of bamboo varies depending on whether it is fresh or dry (the fresher bamboo is green coloured and is less sturdy, so it’s cheaper), on the length (the longer it is the more expensive), and also on whether it has already been used, so on whether it is second hand or new. He assumed we wanted new, sturdy bamboo, which would cost 3 cedis per piece, he could arrange for us to meet a vendor he knew. We explained that actually the bamboo will not have to hold much weight for our work, and we are happy to use recycled material. After some thought, he made us a deal: he decided to sponsor us. We would go with him to his depot where he would sell us bamboo that has already been used for 1 cedi per piece. It seemed like a decent offer. Ben, Yusif and Lotfi set off to Adolf’s depot, while the rest of us followed Dagna to find other working elements.
Dagna figured our first stop should be the bamboo sellers behind the Methodist Church, to try and assess Adolf’s offer, and to see if they had bamboo with different diameters, in case we wanted to be able to play with a variety of sizes. To get there we journeyed through a dense market selling herbs and voodoo tools, as well as house appliances and building work utensils. It emerged after talking to three bamboo sellers that the price ranged from 5 to 3 cedis for a single 13 feet long bamboo – confirming the prices cited at the construction site. As we were heading off, the seller who had offered us the worst price asked us when we were coming back. “Probably never” – off we went on the back of five motorbikes to the plastic recycling site to look for chairs. It seemed a bit complicated to get chairs from here, since workers buy plastic by the kilo to then recycle it, and it takes work to find broken or discarded chairs to buy. The plastic site seemed vast, and it was surprising to suddenly be here, in the middle of the city, after a dusty and increased-heart-rate-inducing motorbike ride. Dagna explained that the e-waste site is just behind this one. We talked about plans for the Eid with Dagna’s friends who work here, since we are also looking for things to do. They will be slaughtering a cow, and going to pray in an open air space where the President will also join the believers on Eid.
On our way to lunch we briefly visited a big beige and green gated compound recently built by a prominent prophet, whose word of the year is “Power” – but soon got kicked out. Finally, we went looking for LED lights, but figured we might get the same if not better prices closer to home in Zongo Lane, so we jumped in two taxis to get to the other side of the plastic recycling site. We ate in a restaurant on the edge of Agbogbloshie, where we tasted palava sauce. At 3pm we had a meeting at Brazil House to head to the Homowo festival with the rest of the Chale Wote team. Ben, Yusif and Lotfi had bought the bamboo from Adolf/Nii Boi, and had already stocked it in Hussher Fort.
The twin festival was incredible. Difficult to describe, hundreds and hundreds of people lining the streets and sitting or perching over balconies and roofs to see twins and their families parading. One member of each family is designated every year to carry a big metal bowl on their head with leaves and water across the neighbourhood to a sacred site where they are to dump it for the ancestors. These people might get possessed by spirits, and the spirits might be riotous, so stand back, warns Mantse, the founder of Chale Wote, before we all head off to find our place along the road to see the procession. The families were all dressed in similar ways, some had all gotten fitted clothes made from the same textile. Twin baby girls were the most gorgeous, all dressed in white with ribbons in their hair, held up by family members, sometimes napping on their shoulder while the celebration loudly raged on around them. Families walked quickly as everyone watched from the sides, sometimes lightly jogging, while younger people raced through with drums, singing, shouting. A group of people wearing hats and beads covering their faces passed by with signs saying “No. 12”, signalling their outrage at the latest corruption scandal unveiled by the journalist Anas, this time concerning football. Ben had a dance off with a lady, Valentina was carried off by two ladies running down the street following the procession, Aziz and Hedi had children on their shoulders to get them to see the street, we all at some point just had to go with the flow and let go, getting high from all the energy.
On our way back to Brazil House we sat and relaxed at a beer shack in the street and ate skewers – the festival organisers assured the boys they were halal, since all the vendors are Muslim. Hedi, who had been wanting to get his hair done into braids since day one, finally caught the moment when he saw a hairdresser’s just across the street. Lotfi also had a hair style change he wanted to try out, so the both of them got their hair extended and braided as we ate more skewers, asking Nii Arde – a Ga musician helping out at the festival – about aspects of the twin parade we didn’t fully understand, taking in the day.
Having all landed in Accra at various hours of the night, the Warcha team was fresh enough to start the day at 11am. We were brought a Ghanaian breakfast favourite – fried egg sandwiched in toast bread and black tea – to our rooms, but felt in need of coffee, so ventured out for a wonder around James Town, and ended up ocean side. Coffee was not found, but Osikan was: a restaurant surrounded by waves, where we tried different malt-based non-alcoholic drinks, and where we held our first meeting. Mush kima al halqalwed.
After having agreed to meet with the Chale Wote festival curators in the afternoon to discuss where the Warcha was to be based to construct our installation, we set out to change our dollars. First challenge. The Tunisian Dinar being a non-exportable currency, our only way to get our stipends out of Tunisia was to first convert our bills into US dollars. But the transfer into Ghanaian cedis turned out to be not so straightforward. We went to three different banks and enquired about exchange rates in various “forex bureaus” before the employees of Barclay’s bank took our plight at heart. The issue with the dollar bills we had been given in Tunis was that some were old, and some were “weakened” (looked crumpled and used), and so the Ghanaian banks couldn’t accept them. They were only willing to exchange half of our stipends. After much pleading, the employees took pity, and having heard us speaking French called a French speaking broker to the rescue. He towered into the bank ten minutes later, where we proceeded in light of all the other customers to negotiate exchange rates. After a brief back and forth, he reached into his breezy boubou and handed over several bricks of cedis notes in exchange for our shabby dollars. Relief.
For a late lunch we went to a terraced restaurant just in front of our very handily placed Evelyn Hotel, called Backpass. The boys were not feeling too adventurous, especially since the meat was not halal, so some went for jollof rice and fish, and others for tuna sandwiches with chips. Nao and Valentina tried the impossible-to-eat-elegantly okra and fish soup with banko, and chicken soup – strong choices.
At 5pm our group split: half went to meet the Chale Wote organisers, while the other half went to the James Town Community Theater Center. The organisers told us that we were going to be based right next to Ussher Fort, in an oval shaped open-air space called Old Kingsway. We had already checked it out in the morning, graffiti and wall art from last year’s Chale Wote on every wall (with every new edition of the festival old art works are painted over white for new ones to be made), kids playing football, bonne ambiance. The issue with the space is that next weekend (the highpoint of the festival) there will be concerts held there in the evenings, so if we want to work in Old Kingsway during the week to build our structure we might have to move it to Ussher Fort over the weekend or we might have to build something that works with the concerts (like a sort of set design). We will see what solution is best, but so far we are keen on working in Old Kingsway because while being enclosed and so somewhat an intimate space to work in (not completely in the open public space) it doesn’t have a gate or a ceiling, so it remains a shared space, and any passer-by can see that we are up to something and can come in and ask us questions or join us, which is very much in the El Warcha spirit.
The community theatre was bustling with energy, with young dancers, football players and rappers from a nearby neighbourhood having a meeting to brainstorm how they could join the community radio being run at the theatre, and with basketball and boxing going on in the adjacent courtyards. The boxing gym is run by a local chief, a real Nii (the name means chief), who greets us as he walks by, wearing the traditional red and black chief vest. We are welcomed into the theatre and join the brainstorming. Amongst the young people there were several radio presenters and a designer who were interested in joining our workshop over the next days. One of the young rappers was called Vipa, like the Tunisian rapper that has come to play at several Warcha parties in the Hafsia. Mohamed and Vipa immediately hit it off and started making plans for recording a song together. We met two Niis – a common Ga name, the Ga being the original inhabitants of James Town – who told us respectively about the community radio and the community theatre being run at the space. The radio runs online and has two channels, one in Ga and one from Accra to the World, with all sorts of programmes run by the community. The theatre works with Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed techniques to tackle local issues, using the metaphor of boxing pairs (James Town is famous for being a boxing hub), who come to the aid of their partner when they see he is tired and step in his place to continue the match. Theatre Nii also explained to us the events that will take place tomorrow and Saturday as part of the Homowo festival: the twin parade that is happening tomorrow afternoon in the streets of James Town, and the chiefs distributing food the next day. A child is seen as a blessing, so twins are a double blessing, and bring luck to their family and community. Homowo, Nii tells us, is a festival that commemorates the arrival of the Ga to what is now James Town. At first the community went through a long period of famine and difficult times, during which a lot of people died, so they resorted to working hard on the land and stopping all feasting until they could get themselves on their feet. That year the harvest was so bountiful that the first Homowo celebration took place to honour the dead and remember that time of hardship. During the twins parade men and women carry buckets full of water and leaves from the harvest which they go dump in a sacred ground at the edge of the city. These carriers might get possessed by spirits, some of whom might be a bit violent, so they are held at the waist by people walking behind them. Nii gives us rendez-vous the next day at 3pm to go see the twins parade together.
In the evening we passed by Old Kingsway again to check it out at night, since for our installation we will play with LED lighting. An artist perched on scaffolding was drawing the outline of Mandela’s face, tracing the bases for a mural on the freshly white washed wall. A group of young people joined us and soon made friends with the boys. Then a big man approached, sussing us out while stroking his chin, asking after our project. He said we’d have to negotiate whether we could work here or not, and invited us through a small door which lead into his wood workshop. He works here making wooden frames for sofas, and wants us to come see him with the festival organisers the next day to fix a price for letting us use Old Kingsway – the space is under our supervision, see. He introduced himself as Jackson, his Christian name, but if we come back, we should ask for Kwaku: Wednesday born.
Had dinner with egg and bread sandwiches from a street stand, as the boys went scouting for drinks and then resorted to the stash of harissa and slata meshouia that they brought with them from Tunis. Heading in for a long night, the neighbourhood still buzzing with music, preaching and movement, getting ready for tomorrow’s Homowo festival.
The El Warcha team are heading to Accra, Ghana, to participate in the Chale Wote Street Art Festival. We will be working with the inhabitants of the neighbourhood of James Town to build an installation in the public space with local materials.
15 to 27 August 2018
Blog - Text: Valentina Zagaria; Photos: Nao Maltese
The project was funded by the Rambourg Foundation and the Cité de l’Architecture de Paris.
"Le trône (sarîr), la chaire (minbar), la chaise (takht) et le fauteuil (kursî) sont des morceaux debois ajustés ou marches (montées en siège), pour que le souverain puisse s’asseoir au-dessus des courtisans et qu’il ne soit pas au même niveau. […] Mais les souverains ne montent sur un trône qu’une fois qu’ils sont devenus assez fastueux, par leur puissance et par leur luxe. Au début, les Bédouins n’y pensent même pas.
Le premier musulman qui s’assit sur un trône fut Mu’âwiya : il argua de sa corpulence. Ses successeurs imitèrent sont exemple et l’usage du trône en vint à montrer une tendance à la pompe (royale)."
Ibn Khaldûn, Al – Muqaddima, Discours sur l’Histoire universelle, p405
Traduction Vincent Monteil, Ed Sindbad, 1967-1968
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