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Arts for community development – curating art in support of La, Ghana

On Saturday 12 December, Lorenzelli Gallery (Milan, Italy) presented ‘Exit through the gift of life’, by Serge Attukwei Clottey’s (1985 – Accra, Ghana). The collection, curated by Professor Marina Novelli, our Professor of Tourism and International Development and Academic Lead for Responsible Futures Research and Enterprise Agenda, was Clottey’s first photographic exhibition.

‘Exit through the gift of life’ addresses two global emergencies associated with the climate and plastic pollution crisis, which have been overshadowed during this Coronavirus pandemic, but remain relevant and critical.  

This is another example of Clottey’s commitment to “educate through art”, which aims at influencing social, economic and technological change both in his La township community of Accra (Ghana) and internationally. 

Based in Accra and working all over the world, Clottey is the founder of “Afrogallonism”, a concept addressing the issue of materialistic culture through the alternative use of discarded gallon containers, locally called Kufuor gallons or jerrycans. Found throughout Ghana, these plastic containers have become synonymous with serious water shortages, but also of widespread environmental decay. 

Professor Novelli has been working with Clottey since 2018 on a shared mission to forge local sustainble development through community-based interventions which are rooted into the true needs of the community of La (Accra, Ghana).  

Through an incidental beginning that happened during a visit to La based studio of the Artist, Prof. Novelli was able to develop a dialogue and a set of mutually beneficial activities between Clottley, his network and the University of Brighton Responsible Futures agenda, which soon became the focus of an entirely new line of research on ‘Arts for community Development’ and knowledge exchange between staff and students from different schools.  

man in a white full body suit laying in foetal position in a pile of plastic bottles

Exit through the gift of Life X, 2020. Image courtesy of S.A. Clottey 2020.

In this photographic project, Clottey employs two mediums – performance and photography – working in collaboration with members of his GoLokal community-based collective, the artist explains that “bodies are used as ‘objects at play’ in spaces (mostly dump sites), where most of these gallons end up”. 

Exit through the gift of life is in Clottey’s words “a personification of the plastic gallons he uses to produce his tapestries. It narrates the essence of how these materials are treated in the homes of the families who use them. For years now the gallons have become a basic essential in many homes as they are used for storing and transporting necessities like water, gas oil, cooking oil and alcohol. Until these materials have outlived their use in people’s homes and become discarded, they are literally part of the lives of the people who use them. While it is necessary for them to throw away the old and worn-out gallons and make room for new and strong ones, we must ask the questions: how and where these gallons are disposed of and what are the implications?”. 

image of a man in a green full body suit laying on a beach covered in rubbish

Exit through the gift of Life II, 2020. Image courtesy of S.A. Clottey 2020.

Massimiliano Lorenzelli highlighted the importance of working with Clottey on a mission which goes far beyond mere commercial interests. He said: ‘’The decision to support a number of focused community-based projects in the neighbourhood of La (Accra, Ghana) – where Clottey’s studio is located is not casual. We decided to commit 10% of any profit generated from the sale of the limited photographs’ series to contribute to focused community-based projects that aim at environmental recovery and socio-economic reintegration of young people and women of La. 

Massimiliano Lorenzelli also explained: ‘’We Invited Professor Marina Novelli (University of Brighton, UK) to curate this project because she shares our vision and the 10% funds mentioned will be used as match funding to some of the project she has already initiated in the community of La.” 

Novelli emphasised the importance of this new engagement as we go through a critical historical time. She said: ‘’With priorities shifting on a daily basis due to the on-going COVID19 crisis and the uncertainty this is creating, we cannot forget where we were before the pandemic took us all by surprise. We must continue working and adapting to a new normal in the making and remain active in what we believe in. This collaboration with Clottey and Lorenzelli is simply a reflection and extension of this commitment to use arts to educate, innovate and foster sustainable local development’’. 

 This collaboration is part of a series of initiatives which have spurred and led also to securing a SCDTP scholarship in support of research in the value of contemporary arts for community development in West Africa, which has seen Clive Alanso starting his PhD journey last September. The plan is to continue benefitting from this incredibly powerful network of collaborators and forge further research collaborations. Novelli recently submitted an AHRC application building on the knowledge acquired from this on-going engagements and continues to seek creative ways to expand the reach and visibility of the University of Brighton internationally. 

12 of Clottley’s shots (limited edition of 4 per shot) are available for purchase uniquely on Artsy, which is the largest global digital contemporary arts platform – https://www.artsy.net/show/lorenzelli-arte-exit-through-the-gift-of-life/info   

 

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Clare Prust • January 16, 2021


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