Featured in
Issue 228

Limbo Accra’s Cultural Spaces in Unfinished Buildings

Dominique Petit-Frère recounts how Limbo Accra supports artist communities and came to transform unrealized developments across Ghana

BY Yaa Addae, Vanessa Peterson AND Dominique Petit-Frère in Opinion | 29 JUN 22

Limbo Accra started in autumn 2018, initially as a spatial art platform, in direct response to my experiences here in Accra. As a child, like many people of the diaspora, I travelled back and forth to Ghana to visit family. Later, I returned to Accra to conduct research for my postgraduate thesis, which explored the urban development and economy of West African cities. In the process of doing so, I noticed that there was a plethora of uncompleted property developments littering the city.

I was introduced to the creative scene in Accra and I observed how gallery spaces were being used – architect Joe Osae-Addo’s Jamestown Cafe, for instance, or Gallery 1957 at the five-star Kempinski Hotel. I felt compelled to respond by utilizing these unfinished spaces as sites of investigation and enquiry, examining not only the impact of the buildings on the local landscape but also how that environment influences the way Ghanaians are developing and modernizing the city. For the launch of Limbo Accra, I invited nine contemporary Ghanaian artists, including David Alabo, Adjoa Armah and Serge Attukwei Clottey, to exhibit on an unfinished building site in Adjiringanor. The works reflected the theme of modernization, such as the increasing numbers of property developments mimicking luxury housing in the West, and the ensuing forms of crisis, such as the rising cost of living for the average Ghanaian.

‘Adjiringanor Activation’, 2018, exhibition view. Courtesy: Limbo Accra; photograph: Emil Grip

Often privately owned, each individual property has specific requirements regarding how it can be used. Many times, when you enter an unfinished space that’s in this state of limbo (the inspiration for our name), there’s a caretaker onsite to guard the property to ensure that no one squats on the land. We collaborate directly with these caretakers, as opposed to the property owners, who mostly either live overseas or have no interest in dealing with the property.

The reasons for these unfinished sites are manifold: in Ghana, there are recurring issues when it comes to land titles and ownership. For instance, multiple family members might be attempting to sell the same property to different buyers, leading to chaos and confusion. Alongside this, current government standards as to how Accra should be built upon can make it feel like the Wild West. This is why a lot of these projects remain uncompleted.

These unfinished developments can lead to urban deserts that lack essential amenities and have a detrimental impact on surrounding neighbourhoods. As Accra continues to expand, this dearth of requisite infrastructure raises the question of whether these new projects are for the benefit of Ghanaians or for the profit of wealthy developers? The kind of developments emerging are condos, private mansions and apartment blocks being sold at such ridiculous prices that most Ghanaians, and many overseas buyers, cannot afford them.

Patrick Tagoe-Turkson, 2018, installation featuring model Jude Lartey. Courtesy: the artist and Limbo Accra; photograph: Ofoe Amegavie

Since our first exhibition, we’ve transitioned into an architectural studio, and we’re now getting commissions to carry out building projects, such as Virgil Abloh’s Freedom Skate Park. Many of our clients come from the creative community – both diasporic and local – wanting to generate space for different forms of artistic production. Not everyone in Ghana can do this, but we can play an instrumental part in helping those who want, and can afford, to create a different kind of city.

Other artists and curators reach out to us all the time looking for exhibition spaces, and we offer them support and guidance in their search, accompanying them on site tours to select a property that speaks to them and their project. They lead the conversation with the caretakers, but we help them negotiate how best to utilize the space for exhibitions and events. This DIY ethos enables artists to exhibit their work independently of government funding and institutional structures, while the occupation of these uncompleted buildings creates a sense of empowerment. Our work and mission is all about repurposing these deserted structures and making them useful to society again. This is an extension of our practice: our work isn’t just about our organization; it’s about initiating collective change

As told to Yaa Addae & Vanessa Peterson

This article first appeared in frieze issue 228 with the headline ‘Suspended States’

Main Image: Serge Attukwei Clottey and Patrick Tagoe-Turkson, ‘Adjiringanor Activation’, 2018, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artists and Limbo Accra; photograph: Anthony Comber-Badu

Yaa Addae is a writer, cultural strategist and curator.

Vanessa Peterson is associate editor of frieze. She lives in London, UK. 

Dominique Petit-Frère is co-founder and creative director of Limbo Accra, a collab­orative spatial design studio dedicated to architectural projects, art installations and urban design in West African cities.