Our shores become studio and stage. Young reggae artists hit their hearts away to the waves; they make music― melodious or discordant. A guitar in their arms or a drum in between their thighs and you shall taste their talent!
In a like manner the Oxford Street in Osu often is a spring of aesthetic pleasure. Paintings, beads, fabric, and various wooden and leather handmade African crafts create a colorful on-foot-collage as Hawker-Artists follow pedestrians around.
Some writers resort to self publishing to keep their creative energies going. Similarly, these hawker-artists build up ‘mobile art galleries’ on the street. They grow in numbers each day and one wonders about what keeps them coming. Chances are they are tired of sitting quietly at secluded Arts Centers hoping that the next day would be a better market day. As an alternative, they get on the street and pray to the traffic jam god to grant them, in return for their striking handiwork, our attention and cash.
Considered a total nuisance by some road users; Hawker-artists do not know how to stop at a “thank you but no”. They pester you, often generous at storytelling; the origin, value and use of their artifacts are relayed even before one asks for prizes. Most of the time, the hawkers are the artists themselves and prospective buyers are free to ask questions from what their inspiration was to how they decide a name for a craft. The best part in this street business is that there are no fixed prizes. So, If you are a collector, you will be able to fetch a good number of rare and exotic items depending on your bargaining charm.
New ‘mobile art galleries’ emerge on our streets at every glance; the operatives, artifacts and designs are very similar. While they do not overlap completely they do have a lot in common. This may be because most of their designs are from the same source; indigenous symbols like the Adinkra and of course, Mother Nature. Adinkra symbols are appreciated both for their aesthetic and communicative worth. The use of these symbols dates back to our ancestors and their wide variety continues to be a source of inspiration for visual creative expressions and fashion.
A Ghanaian hawker-artist will earn your respect and admiration not only for their craft but by their customer relation skills and the marvelous solidarity that exists amongst them. An artist would, on impulse, vouch for the quality and authenticity of the wares of another street-artist or may even run to fetch from a fellow hawker-artist if a customer wants an item they do not have. Think of it this way: instead of competing, their want to create fresher items is bigger. So it becomes a communal responsibility to get rid of old works.
Para-artists hawkers, as I call them, share the street-office with hawker-artists. This group usually sells recorded or printed forms of artistic expressions: music and film CD’s, books (mainly children’s literature and short fiction) and posters. Ghana has an amazing poster culture. All major (inter/)national events, disasters, celebrations, breaking news are captured on poster and ready for sale minutes after they happen. It is a running joke that to watch a Ghanaian movie for free, one must only pay attention the promotion poster. There is a comic twist to Ghana’s poster culture. Not everything you see on a poster must be taken seriously. Some posters usually have pictorial exaggerations and very ‘absorbing’ comments. Sometimes they address current political issues or merely go on fabricating stories. Watching posters is a good way to relax in traffic if I be asked. Just make sure you don’t hit the bumper of the vehicle ahead of you if you are the driver.
The creative energy and persuasive force of our artists is crucial to the survival and expansion of our indigenous Arts symbols and designs. While massive Art Galleries are built to target high profile individuals and tourists, hawker-artists target the common people. Their “mobile galleries” become a significant show room for contemporary Art. They keep us in touch with our roots. They lighten the traffic stress. These street-artists defy the popular notion that African crafts are mainly targeted at tourists. How many tourists are there in our hot Accra traffic? It is nonetheless true that their wares among other popular souvenir like the kente cloth, African masks, drums, miniature xylophones, African fashion designs, and wood carvings are counted among the topmost tourist attractions. Our hawker-artists preserve in their striking artifacts non-verbal illustrations of proverbs and maxims. The philosophy, history, education and cultural values of our people is portrayed in their handiworks. Their works is guard against historical erosion and cultural oblivion. Their unrelenting spirits offer the much needed education about who we are, and where we have come from, yet who takes care of these stewards?