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Women Shaping Design Series: Nana Offoriata Ayim

Ghanaian writer, filmmaker and art historian Nana Offoriata Ayim merges filmmaking with museums and introduces Mobile Museum's across Accra

By Esihle Mngini  | August 4, 2022 | Art

From moveable exhibitions to curating, nail art and illustration, this year’s cohort is a multifaceted representation of women visionaries conquering the design space on the African continent and abroad. Here, we speak to the Ghanaian writer, filmmaker and art historian.

Take us through your background.

I grew up between Ghana, Germany and England, studied Russian and politics and worked at the United Nations before doing a master’s degree in African art history. I have always been interested in the intersection of arts and politics or society, i.e., the impact and resonance art can have, whether through my writing, films or art historical and curatorial work.

You have made award-winning films that have been shown at Tate Modern, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The New Museum. What inspired you to explore merging filmmaking with these noteworthy museums?

I started making films after working with the legendary filmmaker Chris Marker and was inspired by the poetic nature of his films – the way he could create these film essays out of fiction, philosophy and travelogues, and still make them watchable. It became another way for me to express and translate the incredibly rich realities I was witnessing.

What aspects or paradigms are integral to the work you curate?

The interdependence of all things as we see them in our indigenous knowledge systems. In them, art is not separate, but connected to education, knowledge of nature, the mind and the soul. I love this integration not just in content but also in form, through the use of sustainable materials, such as earth and bamboo, in the design of exhibitions.

Through your work in the museum space, you have been innovative and taken museums to new heights by introducing Mobile Museums across Accra, Ghana, showcasing significant works of painting, film and oral history to various communities. What was the drive that brought these projects to life?

The fact that museums and galleries, as we know them from the West, only really appeal to a small segment of our society, yet art and culture are pervasive for everyone. My underlying question was how do we engage with as many people as possible, find out what is of cultural value to them and then see how together we can create models of resonance and expression.

You are renowned for bodies of work that sought to establish better understanding of cultural contexts in the global discourse. In these changing times, what more would you like to see done to champion this cause?

More that is truly relativistic. even though there is much conversation around themes of decolonising at the moment, it is still within the predominant Western paradigms. I think the intriguing conversations and movements right now are happening within the so-called global south: new paradigms, ways of thinking, being and seeing. I think that when these surface and take up as much room as the ones we currently know of, i.e., when more voices contribute to the world’s chorus, things will start to get interesting.

What advice would you give a young emerging diasporic artist, curator or designer facing barriers when trying to get their work recognised?

I would say that everything is about community: reach out to people, nurture relationships, ask for help and advice; without other people, it is impossible to move forward. People guide us, give us valuable criticism, support us and inspire us, so build your communities early and grow them as you keep growing.