The House of Tomorrow
When I came back to Ghana ten years ago, my plan was to create an arts institution in the mountains of the rainforest where I am from. My mother had passed away a few years earlier and left her house in the hills to be inherited by the women in the family, as is the norm among the matrilineal Akan from which I stem. I sat on the porch of this house as a child, listening to the old women who chatted outside while my mother cooked, telling stories of the forests, of our histories. It was after these same women I would later name my organisation: ANO or “3no”, which means grandmother in our language. It was here that my uncle taught me the Ayan, the language of the sacred drum. And it was here that my grandfather planted the palm trees that stood tall on either side of the main road that traversed the town. Here, where my roots stretched hundreds of years down into the earth, was where I planned to start a cultural space that would spring branches and blossoms from those roots, stretching out far into the world.
My dream did eventually come to fruition, but not in this place, and not in the form I had imagined at the outset. For despite the matrilineal tradition of the Akan of Ghana, with power and property passing through the line of women, its structures are overwhelmingly patriarchal. An older male relative informed me I could not fulfil the plans I had discussed with my mother; instead he was going to convert the house according to his own ideas. I did not know it then, but this was the beginning of my ten-year struggle to assert ANO as a space inspired by the wisdom of women, within structures infused by the immutability of men.
I had started ANO back in 2002, at the Liverpool Biennale. The title of the exhibition, One, reflected the way I’d experienced art and culture from childhood: not as something concealed in specially walled-off spaces, but immersive, dynamic, and intrinsically part of life. The architecture and design of One was inspired by classical Asante courtyard houses, ten of which, made of timber, bamboo and earth, still exist in the Asante kingdom, but most were destroyed by the colonial violence of the British. I included paintings, films, sculptures, fashion and music by artists including El Anatsui, Owusu-Ankomah and Marigold Akufo-Addo, and curated them to feel like a proper home, rather than an exhibit in a museum.
That theme of interdependence has continued like a thread through every exhibition I’ve curated in the twenty years since. It culminated in 2019 in a collaboration with the architect David Adjaye, for Ghana’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale.