On the 5th of March 1957, the day before the first colony in Sub-Saharan Africa declared its independence, the National Museum of Ghana was inaugurated. President Kwarme Nkrumah, having studied and lived in the United States, transfered the concept of museums to the new founded country. The museum was supposed to tell stories of people and giving them a kind of identity in a torn apart society. Plans which had begun under the colonial government to establish an ethnographic museum in the capital were adopted by Nkrumah to showcase an independent African personality and identity along with the new territory called Ghana. It was undoubtedly a deliberate choice for the museum to be inaugurated on the eve of the independence. One of the challanges Nkrumah faced was uniting the four territories of the former Gold Coast. The museum was intended to serve as a platform, creating a common front and a space to show what united Ghanians through culture. Nkrumah wanted the museum to become a unifying force and a testimony of the variety of African personality and inspiration.
As a place that served to create a common front in the face of a newly independent and ethnically diverse state, and a synonym for a united African independence, the National Museum of Ghana in many ways remains as a relict of a golden past distant from the perspectives and needs of most Ghanians today. Since 1966 not one member of the government has set foot in the museum on an official visit. Except school classes and some tourists only few Ghanaians seem to wander around the exhibition space.
Accra is now in 2012 a bustling and expansive African metropolis of between 4 to 5 million people and globalisation is rapidly changing the economic and social character of the city. Aside from being a testimony to a great and heroic past, there is little evidence, in the face of massive change, that the museum has managed to maintain its ambition of presenting and propagating what binds Ghanians together beyond the ancient artefacts on show in its gallery space.
The National Museum works on redefining its role as a emblematic icon and as katalyst of the national consciousness. Ghanas most important museum could be a dynamic reservoir for creativity and vivid cultural production, binding past, present and future together.
- Can the museum find its way to go beyond being a centre of memorialisation and also become a place of inspiration?
- Can the museum re-find its way to become an agent in forging new forms of common understanding and public consciousness?
- How can the past be fitted into the contemporary life?
The museum started as a joint venture with members of the british colonial government. Its modernist architecture bears the signature style of Maxwell Fry and Jane Dew. The plans for the building, with much input and shaping from Nkruma, were adopted as an immediate measure to ensure the museum would be complete to mark the dawn of a new era. Plans quickly emerged for an extension of the museum. An italian architect designed a larger two-storey structure. After the coup d’état in 1966 the building of the extension has stopped. Today, masked behind the offices of the museum, remain the decaying remnants of the extension building, a reminder of a time when the museum was central in capturing the promise of the future.
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