Untitled: ...of religion, fiction, memory
by Kelvin HaizeL
How do you begin to remember someone you have never met? Have you ever met someone you desperately try to remember even though you know you’ve not met before? It happens to me all the time and when I find myself in that condition, I’ve realized that the physical presence of the person interweaves with my imagination to form a sort of false memory. It is a place simultaneously occupied by real and fiction; absence and presence, physical and imaginary. This idea of false memory is my starting point in response to the legacies of post-colonial identity.
The Ussher fort (Crevecoeur) was built by the Dutch in 1649 in British Accra; and rebuilt in 1679 after the establishment of the second Dutch West India Company (WIC). It was destroyed by the British in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. Later restored, abandoned, reoccupied and again destroyed by earthquake in 1862. The Dutch rebuilt it once more and finally transferred to the British in 1868, who immediately renamed it Ussher Fort and expanded it into a prison complex. It served as a functioning prison until 1992.
The work exhibited here deals with histories of two places in the Ussher Fort Prisons: the execution room and the mosque. The two places dealt with annihilation of a people’s physical existence and the later, restoration after earth. The former came together as mild imaginations of battered people; suggestive of grim dehumanized head forms. They were drawings from charcoal and water washes, sometimes a little watercolor as well. The graffiti on the prison walls which might be read as traces of personal narratives of inmates recorded in charcoal informed my material choice. One of such writings read “I am from Sudan and from Darfur”. It tells of displacement, migration and a search for a new identity although latching on to the old. This is of recent history only made possible through a systemically engineered past. The history told from inception of the colonialist is of horror and systemic exploitation that rubbed Mores of their dignity. Although the grim past might have missed me by a few years, its vestiges in religion, capitalism and shrouded imperialistic democracy still blatantly perpetuate even harsher methods. Of the past I could only capture the horrid faces imagined from the execution room — influenced by means of recording presence/absence on the walls of the prison.
The second aspect of the project is a site specific installation on the grounds that served as a mosque for inmates. The grounds are covered with construction nets (as I choose to call them), that have become ubiquitous in the Accra urban cityscape. On the net covering the entire worship grounds is an installation of distorted colored casts of partial human heads. Functionally these flexible rubber nets are used to ward off construction sites where work is in progress. However they metaphorically serve as mats on which worship takes place while the heads allude to imagined worshipers. The casts are incomplete because they represent mild memories of unknown people. Symbolically, the construction nets ward off the grounds (basis) of our post-colonial inherited belief systems – preparing it for reconstruction. Thus spectators are conditioned to engage the space above /outside the net whiles preparation for reconstruction is underway. ‘Outside’ is implied here if one imagines the ground as a wall and the audience engage from without.
But underneath all this, is there a slightest chance of remembering the unknown? Do we need to reconstruct religious belief systems woven into our post-colonial identity? Why is Ghana the most religious country in the world? By what measure is this status arrived at? Am I a part of this religious group?
This is part of an ongoing exhibition titled Voyage of [RE]DISCOVERY, at the Ussher Fort Prisons situated in Ga Mashie, Accra; in collaboration with
Adjo Apodey Kisser
Chief Moomen! Dzyadzorm
Robert Obeng Nkrumah! Serubiri Moses
5 MARCH - 26 APRIL 2015
To learn more about the Ussher Fort, please click here.
Kelvin Haizel is based out of Accra, Ghana. His work employs varied visual forms as a way to deal with nostalgia and fantasies that are resultants of collective postcolonial identity.
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