Ghana’s nationwide museum has reopened its doorways after a seven-year closure to permit for main renovations.
The museum was first opened in March 1957 as a part of the celebrations marking the transition from colonial rule to independence.
The opening additionally marked the tip of a bitter wrestle between members of the museum employees over points associated to the creation of a brand new reminiscence house. I traced this historical past in a paper in regards to the origins of the museum.
Usually, museums are thought-about areas for the previous. Nevertheless, additionally they mirror how the previous is known and used within the current. In 1957, the makers of the museum wished to create an area for overseas guests, telling a historical past that centered on peaceable elements of Ghana’s previous. Within the course of, much less peaceable histories have been excluded, such because the slave commerce and the damaging elements of colonial rule.
Over time, histories of the slave commerce have been added to the museum’s exhibitions. The not too long ago accomplished renovation has supplied the museum with the chance to develop a brand new exhibition the place these histories have been a part of the principle narrative.
I used to be intrigued to learn how the museum in contrast with the unique imaginative and prescient.
After visiting it I concluded that it does an exemplary job of presenting the dynamic variety of Ghana as a nation. But it surely nonetheless excludes sure histories – most notably these of the slave commerce and colonial rule. The museum is leaving out essential elements of Ghana’s previous. It misses the chance to be an area the place these may be mentioned and processed peacefully.
Origins of the Nationwide Museum
The thought of building a nationwide museum in what was then often called the Gold Coast was first raised within the Forties by the colonial authorities.
In 1951, the archaeologist A.W. Lawrence turned the director of this future museum. With a group consisting of archaeological artefacts and an archaeologist as its director, it had a robust historic foundation.
Over the subsequent few years, new politicians determined the place to accommodate the museum and what histories it ought to inform. Along with British officers, the anti-colonial Conference Peoples’ Occasion turned chargeable for it.
The constructing was designed by Denys Lasdun of Fry, Drew, Drake & Lasdun, a partnership identified for Modernist tropical structure.
The museum consisted of a number of trendy components, not least the constructing supplies. A prefabricated aluminium dome covers many of the constructing. However domes additionally characterise many European museums. The constructing can due to this fact be seen as a compromise between the standard and the fashionable.
Contained in the museum, Lawrence wished to inform a historical past that was known as “Man in Africa”. This historical past centered on the Gold Coast in opposition to the background of what “Man has achieved all through the remainder of Africa.”
To inform this story, the museum acquired artefacts from historic Egypt, the Roman interval in Morocco, and two authentic Benin bronze heads, amongst different issues. Lawrence additionally acquired European objects utilized in West Africa prior to now centuries for instance the connection between the Gold Coast and Europe.
Nevertheless, one member of the employees, John Osei Kufour, who was an ardent supporter of the Conference Peoples’ Occasion, wished the museum to be an area for anti-colonial historical past. He was extremely essential of the objects acquired by Lawrence, significantly these from Europe. He wished the museum to focus completely on Ghana and its traditions – traditions he hoped would quickly be confined to the previous by the federal government’s improvement plans.
In 1956, shortly earlier than the museum was about to open, he used his contacts within the get together in an effort to take away the director. It failed. The get together leaders didn’t need the museum to be an anti-colonial house. Slightly, they noticed it as an acceptable assembly place the place guests to the nation may be taught one thing of its historical past.
Two non permanent exhibitions have been unveiled on the opening in 1957.
One was primarily based on objects and instructed the historical past of “Man in Africa”, and the opposite used paperwork from the newly established nationwide archives to relate latest historical past. Each offered narratives of the previous characterised by ordered progress and improvement ensuing from the interplay between the folks of Ghana, West Africa and different elements of the world.
Usually, the nationwide museum excluded all references to the elements of Ghana’s world previous that have been problematic. It contained references to European contact however to not the slave commerce. The paperwork excluded the anti-colonial narrative of colonial exploitation or resistance.
Over the next many years sure adjustments have been made in a bid to regulate the museum to new calls for. Within the Nineties, for example, the historical past of the transatlantic slave commerce was included. This enabled guests from the African diaspora to search out their previous too.
In 2015 the museum was closed for reparation and restoration. When it opened in 2022, it began with a clear slate.
The museum has been superbly restored, and is value a go to for all who admire modernistic structure from the independence period.
However I’ve a number of criticisms.
The brand new exhibition is entitled “Unity in Range”, which I feel is a superb title. However the opening exhibition fails to discover or focus on this. What does variety entail? How is it related to tolerance and acceptance?
Additionally, as in 1957, troublesome histories are excluded. The transatlantic slave commerce shouldn’t be mentioned. Neither is the colonial interval.
Usually, the museum appears unfinished. However this could be a good factor: it permits the museum employees to constantly develop the exhibitions and invite new types of participation from guests. Slightly than telling the singular “historical past” of Ghana, it may inform many histories of Ghana – from views that additionally carry out the variety of nation.
Museums are probably necessary locations for dialogue and discussions. The Nationwide Museum in Ghana could be a place the place folks use their numerous experiences from the previous to debate find out how to remedy points within the current.