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Breathing Space | Projects

Hakeem Adam’s speculative Ghana Airways project takes flight

Hakeem Adam

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A Breathing Space Project

In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.

Ghana Airways is a multi-media installation by Hakeem Adam translating artistic research around the construction of post-colonial identity into a sculptural form. The work is an attempt at harmonising various elements from archival material and personal memory into concrete actors that question and probe the nexus of Ghanaian or any kind of post-colonial Identity.

Established in the early 1960s following Ghana’s independence from the British, Ghana Airways was an independently owned and operated airline until its collapse in 2004. Its establishment is a manifestation of Kwame Nkrumah’s desire to define a national identity for the new idea of Ghana: an independent State; a Global Powerhouse rich in resources; and the vanguard of pan-African excellence. This political decision — realized differently by the ruling class coupled with economic mismanagement — would eventually lead to the company’s financial demise. Despite succeeding in conveying the Ghana flag to as many destinations as possible, thereby securing its legacy as a cultural icon, the airline is effectively a lens to reconstructing the architecture of the post-colonial identity associated with being Ghanaian.

The project engages with the airline across multiple layers of significance: The airplane is framed as a metaphorical time capsule, moving through time and space with the ability to travel through nonlinear multimedia, multidimensional archives. The politics of archiving constructs data/history/stories with an implicit linear bias that highlights singular dimensions of dynamic occurrences in time. Very few Ghanaians ever flew Ghana airways yet despite its eventual failure it occupies an important place in collective identity. In this way the airline becomes a symbol of nationalism: a beacon of hope, an aspiration, as well as a medium to interact with the diaspora and a fantasy.

The installation manifests as a speculative flight control unit for designing the experience, a sculptural element for performing the research, and a website, podcast and research journal which host the research process and findings.

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