British construction boss to open new gallery in Ghana

Marwan Zakhem hopes to create a buzz around the burgeoning scene in the West African country with Gallery 1957


From El Anatsui to Ibrahim Mahama, Ghana has produced some of the hottest artists in recent years. Now, a new gallery is launching in the capital city of Accra in March in a bid to bolster the nascent market there. “We have a wealth of talent in Ghana creating intense, politically driven works,” says Marwan Zakhem, a British Lebanese-born construction magnate and collector who founded the gallery. “We need to create a buzz and to bring the younger artists to international attention.”

Gallery 1957, named after the year Ghana gained independence, will initially focus on contemporary art from Ghana and West Africa. Zakhem, who began buying art when he moved to Africa 15 years ago, is donating his private collection to the gallery, which will be housed in the newly built Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City. Works will be shown in the 140 sq. m gallery and throughout the hotel.

Zakhem, who sits in the board of Tate’s Africa acquisitions committee, will also commission new works for the collection. The first exhibition will feature one such commission and a performance by the up-and-coming artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, who founded Ghana’s GoLokal performance collective. Clottey is also known for his use of the ubiquitous yellow jerrycans that people in Ghana use to collect and store water. Clottey describes this practice as “Afrogallonism”.

There are plans to commission new works from artists including Zohra Opoku, Jeremiah Quarshie and Yaw Owusu. Ibrahim Mahama is also due to create a work for one of the walls in the hotel foyer in the coming months—the first of two commissions by the established artist.

Zakhem says because of the lack of infrastructure in Ghana—there are only two or three successful galleries in the country—many artists choose to go abroad looking for gallery representation after they graduate from art school. “There are a number of fantastic non-profits in Ghana such as the Nubuke Foundation and ANO, which foster creativity in the early stages of an artist’s working life,” he says. “We want to help those artists establish a long and successful career.” Local collectors are still a minority, however, accounting for no more than 10% of business, according to Zakhem.

Gallery 1957 will work closely with the independent organisations in Ghana to help nurture the art scene. The gallery’s creative director is Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, a writer and film-maker based in Accra who runs the cultural research initiative, ANO.