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Issue 236

Nubuke Foundation’s Cultural Nous

One of the longest running art institutions in Ghana, founded in 2006, thrives by building networks between artists and the local community

BY Amah-Rose Abrams in Features , Opinion | 15 AUG 23

The Nubuke Foundation sits outside the centre of Accra in East Legon. Its main exhibition space – a striking concrete structure designed by architects Baerbel Mueller and Juergen Strohmayer in 2019 – cuts a unique form in the lush landscape, its central lawn shaded by palm trees. Through cultural and financial nous, the foundation has remained a vital incubator for Ghana’s prospering art scene as it approaches its 20th anniversary, marking the space as one of the longest-running contemporary art centres in the country. The breadth of programming at the gallery in recent years has ranged from a retrospective of the Ghanaian photographer James Barnor to exhibitions by young painters such as Na Chainkua Reindorf, whose vivid canvases represented Ghana at the 2022 Venice Biennale, and Gideon Appah, who had one of his first solo outings at the institution in 2017, before going on to show at New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash in 2020 and London’s Pace Gallery earlier this year.

‘Look At We’, 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: Nubuke Foundation; photograph: Nii Odzenma

Nubuke was founded in 2006 by director Odile Tevie, a gallery manager with a background in IT and banking; Kofi Tutu Agyare, a managing partner at Nubuke Investments as well as co-chair of the African Acquisition Committee at Tate Modern in London; and sculptor and artist Kofi Setordji – all of whom now sit on the board. Their combined experience in business and the arts tells a story about how a space like this survives in a Ghanaian context where public funding is scarce. The gallery’s roster of shows switches between commercial exhibitions and curated programmes showcasing artists from across the country. This balance is essential to the survival of the institution, which has recently expanded with a sister space, the Wa Center for Clay and Textiles, in Loho in the Upper West region of the country.

‘I think, for us, it was important to get audiences to engage with artistic production, as well as with what was happening in the arts at the time and how it was evolving,’ Tevie tells me via video call. ‘Audience engagement was very important. Instead of simply anchoring the foundation within the community, we also wanted to make sure that, on a global level, people began to appreciate what we were doing.’ This approach meant that the founders had a remit both to support artists within Ghana and to create an international network through which they could communicate the work that they do. In its early days, for instance, Nubuke set up a children’s library that connected them with young students within the community. ‘We felt that state schools around us were facing some challenges in helping children learn to read, so we used these reading clinics to bring children into the space. We arranged for them and their parents to meet with artists, which brought in a new, creative energy,’ Tevie explains.

Cecilia Lamptey-Botchway, Efuas Movement of Gravity, 2022. Courtesy: Nubuke Foundation; photograph: Isaac Gyamfi

Nubuke’s first exhibition, ‘Independence’, was staged in 2007 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence from the UK. According to Tevie, the show was a way of giving creative communities in Ghana an overview of the country’s artistic trajectory, as well as creating networks and links between the many different scenes, collectives and artist groups across Ghana. Many who study art in Ghana often struggle to develop their artistic careers as most employment opportunities are in other industries, so Tevie sees it as part of Nubuke’s remit to encourage those with promise to continue with some form of artistic practice. By bringing people in to meet with other artists, they can remain in touch with ideas around production and with critical discussion, even if they are unable to continue their practice full time. ‘We’re building an artists’ network by bringing a community of creative people interested in poetry, drama, literature and music into the space,’ explains Tevie.

All of this, of course, takes place against the back-drop of Ghana’s fluctuating economy. While many of the country’s more internationally successful artists are reinvesting in the region to support emerging talent – Kwame Akoto-Bamfo’s Nkyinkyim Museum in Ada Foah, for instance, or Amoako Boafo’s dot.ateliers in Accra – such projects require strategy and philanthropy to thrive. The contemporary Ghanaian art landscape, of which Nubuke is a key presence, is attracting significant attention at an international level from museums to auction houses, but how long the scene can continue to thrive without real government support remains to be seen.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 236 as part of a dossier with the headline ‘Ghana: Four Galleries to Watch’, alongside Nuku Studio, Gallery 1957 and Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art

Main image: Look At We, 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: Nubuke Foundation; photograph: Nii Odzenma

Amah-Rose Abrams is an arts journalist and broadcaster.