The presence of Ghana’s traditional and contemporary art in everyday life is extremely vibrant, literally. The bright colours composing Ghanaian dress, buildings, posters and advertisements are so vivid and captivating that they are almost blinding at times. Traditional kente cloth, often worn for special events, but used for everyday purposes as well, displays colour combinations that are particular to the original tribes of Ghana. Here in Kumasi, there is a lot of kente with a yellow, red and green pattern to represent the Ashanti people.
My favourite place to admire all of the artwork around Ghana is in the painted signs advertising everything from toothpaste to sardines. Often, an entire wall stretching around a large building will be covered with the repeated, painted logo of a single product, turning the entire building a bright red, green, or blue. Even the smallest of shops have some elaborately painted signs or detailing. Be it a simple chicken thigh and a fish to draw buyers into a cold shop, or the intricate portrait of a women with an elaborate hairstyle on a placard outside of a salon, painted signs are always eye-catching.
What I find most interesting, though, is the way Ghana’s strong connection to visual art is utilized by NGO’s for advocacy. While visiting one Ghanaian anti-corruption institution to the next, the large number of anti-corruption posters hanging in frames on the wall caught my eye in every office. Messages in a bold font that tell you, “Say no to corruption”, or “Be a whistle blower” are accompanied by a strikingly drawn, Ghanaian man or woman pointing an accusatory finger at the poster’s viewer. Throw in the bright colours that adorn everyday Ghanaian life and, needless to say, these images become difficult to ignore.
In a country like Ghana where, according to UNICEF data, 35 per cent of adults are illiterate, organizations are realizing the importance of making information accessible by other means if they want their advocacy to make an impact. The Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), for instance, is working to inform civil society of the corruption that occurs in all levels of social life including one’s day to day interactions in both public and private institutions. On top of their more structured training sessions to teach civil society members how to identify corrupt practices, one of their largest initiatives during Anti-Corruption Week, coinciding with the UN’s Anti-Corruption Day, is to widely distribute anti-corruption bumper stickers throughout the streets of Accra. GACC is trying to make a visual impact that will constantly remind Ghanaians to be on the watch for corruption around them.
Even something as seemingly complex as the Whisleblower Act, a bill passed in 2006 to protect those who report suspected corruption, has been condensed into an image-based message to make the Act more accessible. The pocket-sized, 30-page “Guide to Whistleblowing in Ghana” includes a series of cartoons right in the centerfold that highlights the main points of the guide. The larger training manual for civil society organizations also includes the same cartoons, but in a full-colour version. The cartoons artistically portray the whistleblowers, the allegedly corrupt persons, the police, and the media all in the same illustrated style that is so characteristic of Ghana’s street scenes. A cartoon woman drawn in one box asks a friend, “Can I still blow the whistle if I can’t read or write?” In the same box, the cartoon explains that whistle blowers can make a claim verbally as well as written. Hopefully, these splashes of colour and an artist’s touch will go a long way to educate other members of civil society just like her.