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.