Chanel Samuels is a BA Business and Japanese student at University of Manchester and was a We Face Forward Student Volunteer.
It’s only been a few weeks since the first instalments of the We face Forward West African art, music and culture exhibition took place, but there is already a strong visual presence reverberating throughout Manchester. The exhibition’s signature flag, which encompasses over 15 difference flags symbolising the union between the UK and West Africa, has become a positive and iconic image on the streets of Manchester. The flag has also managed to successfully brand the exhibition, creating an identity bigger than just that of a mere museum exhibit. This 3-month festival stretches well outside Manchester’s gallery spaces. There are a wide range of outstanding music events, including world renowned acts from Afro-Cubism, Femi Kuti and Angelique Kidjo, to name a few. The incredible multiplicity and brilliance of an array of West African music were showcased at the Manchester Day Parade, played vibrantly by a colourful African art inspired vehicle, the We Face Forward Art Bus.
Visiting one of the exhibitions being held at the various museums throughout Manchester is a fantastic, fun and culturally enriching activity for the whole family. As well as being an exciting experience, the museum’s child-friendly facilities take away any anxiety one may feel towards making the day a family excursion. Another impressive element to this exhibition is the variety of interchanging events, including musical performances, story telling, social discussions and the amount of artistic displays that are available. No two out of the nine participating venues are alike and as they are all situated within a fairly close proximity of each other, there is no reason to restrict yourself from visiting only one or just once.
As this is a showcase of contemporary West Africa you will not be disappointed with the level of cultural diversity present. For example, upon entering The Manchester Museum you are greeted by colourful handcrafted artworks and sculptures from Ghana such as their uniquely designed caskets, which helps shed light on their cultural standpoint towards the passing of an individual (the celebration of the persons life is revered rather than their loss being mourned). The pieces are also placed in the middle of the room to highlight the centrality of Ghana’s contributions to the festival. Furthermore, as you continue to tour the museum you will be pleasantly impressed by the abundance of pieces from all over the world as well as Africa.
The Whitworth Art Gallery offers a display of remarkably stunning hand-woven textiles, where the combination of varying weaving traditions is used to highlight how cloth and dress has acted as a medium of expression in West Africa. Pieces from Beninese artist Georges Adéagbo can also be found consisting of objects which symbolise popular music and culture, as well as, Nii Obodai’s photographs of his travels across Ghana. Progressing in to another room, photographs by Romuald Hazoume can be viewed, depicting Beninese travelling on motorbikes carrying plastic containers of petrol that has been smuggled from Nigeria.
Aside from the aforementioned indoor activities there are a lot more events scheduled to take place in Manchester throughout the Olympic summer, all of which are free to enjoy and participate in for the whole family.