“No outsider gaze”: Manju Journal’s debut book allows Ghana’s artists to define their own art and history
Showcasing a range of artists and disciplines that come outside of the western institutional norm, Manju Journal gifts us a truly expansive book with first person accounts from the artists.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 2 August 2023
“When you speak to a Ghanaian artist, they’ll spend half the time talking about other Ghanaian artists,” Richmond Orlando Mensah tells us of his time interviewing artists for the book Voices. Since 2015, Richmond has been the founder and artistic director of Manju Journal, a platform born out of a desire to spotlight and celebrate creativity throughout Ghana and the continent at large and its diaspora. With an educational background in linguistics and French, Richmond hasn’t always worked directly with the creative industry, but has all the passion needed to tell its unique stories. “I have always loved creativity throughout the arts, photography, fashion and music. I started Manju Journal to give us the space to tell our own stories and truly celebrate all that makes us African,” he adds. And since then, it has become a portal into the creativity of the past and present, and an incubator for the next generation of artists.
With a rise in books on African art by big publishers, galleries and the like, Richmond saw that there was something missing – the artist’s perspective. “Usually with a group book about art, you don’t need permission to feature an artist. You simply hire an art journalist, editor or curator to write third person profiles. But we wanted to document the country’s art scene properly, so we interviewed each artist in person or online. Our book is all first person accounts, with no outsider gaze or viewpoint,” he tells us. 80 interviews paint a broad picture of Ghana as a longstanding home of creativity and craft, each peeping into the past and present. “The way we weave is art, the way we express ourselves is art. If you learn about Adinkra symbols and the language we created – that’s art too. The only difference now is that Ghana has moved towards the contemporary arts, whilst keeping its heritage intact and that’s why as a country now it is our time to voice our ideas globally,” he adds.
The conceptual route for Voices was paved through early talks between Richmond and the book’s publisher Twentyfour Thirysix. “Initially it was going to be about all of the current creative scenes in Ghana but we soon realised we needed to focus on artists,” he tells us. “We knew it was possible to make a great book on the country’s music and fashion scenes but we didn’t want to spread it thin editorially,” he adds. The book shows us that specificity can make for something even broader because of its focus. By focusing on artists, it taps into mediums both new and old – digital artists, illustrators, sculptors, fabric designers and ceramicists – platforming Ghana’s rich art history. “We are spotlighting what I believe is Africa’s most vibrant arts scene. But more importantly, the book is another small step in making art from Africa a part of the mainstream.”
In the wake of any renaissance, you can usually trust forces outside of the very people that make up the culture to start documenting it with their own gaze and spin. There is something particularly enriching about the work that Richmond is doing within and beyond Voices, as the artists define themselves for themselves. “We want to learn from each artist and explore our country’s history; the art that is being made, the conversations that are being had, the exhibitions that are being shown, the overall ideas and togetherness that we all share.”
Voices is available to pre-order here.
Manju Journal: Voices (Copyright © Manju Journal, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is an editorial assistant at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.