Body painting, communal theatre, African creative •At Freedom Parade 2022
In a parade group at Nkyinkyim Museum in Nuhalenya, Ada, an open space full of cultural troupes, drummers, spoken word artists, food and clothing vendors, and body painting artists, a female dancer, enveloped by the melting sunset, leaps into the skies in response to the beat from the drummers.
With a piece of cloth wrapped across her chest, both legs painted, and her cheeks slashed with paintings, she punches the air to the delight of onlookers keenly observing her body movements.
The man behind the drum, a teenager with seemingly weak limbs, shirtless with a painted forehead, short and colourful paint made from African fabric, steps up the sound from the drum, which was beautifully responded to by the dancer. She later throws herself back into an empty chair, twists, and turns her neck, both left and right, before interrogating the drummer with her eyes.
Her body dripping with sweat, she springs from the seat, leans backwards and with her two hands in the air, gestures to another drummer who switches the sound, and as if possessed by the melody, she spins her body circles for about 30 seconds before, in a calculated and rhythmic manner, moves her legs forward. A member of a cultural troupe from Mepe in the Volta region, she offered to entertain the remaining crowd that had waited some few hours after the end of activities to mark this year’s Freedom Parade.
A cultural troupe from Mepe in the Volta Region performing at the parade
The parade, curated by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, a visual artist and sculptor, and the brain behind Nkyinkyim Museum, which operates as an archive for African stories and heritage, was a symbolic ceremony in commemoration of African ancestry and the victories of emancipation from all forms of bondage – physical and spiritual. The ceremony involved the parading of Africans through the sacred space which houses the physical memories of enslaved persons.
Grammy nominee Rocky Dawuni led a second march dedicated to the fathers
The event started with an elaborate body painting in different shapes and forms depicting the vibrant nature of African arts and culture. Performances from the various cultural troupes reflected the story behind their heritage. One of the performers from the Volta Region re-enacted the epic but daring escape by their ancestors from the clutches of King Agorkoli, a mythical ruler of Notsie, a small town in modern day Togo, who sprinkled terror on his people.
Under his reign, according to Ewe folklore, anyone who spoke against him was put to the sword and murdered. Unable to bear his wickedness, the people escaped by walking backwards which made it difficult for him and his army to trace and arrest them.
Some guests at the event. They are (from left) Mallory, Allison, Nuerki and Whitney
The parade also highlighted the economic inequalities created by bad and corrupt African leadership. In all, three marches were conducted to the sacred grounds. The first march by our ‘mothers’ was led by Manye Louisa Akpoto-Narh. She spoke against the culture of rape and demanded the state does more to protect the vulnerable in the society.
The second march by our ‘fathers’ was led by Rocky Dawuni and Efo Sela. They called for the preservation of African arts, emancipation and the re-orientation of African culture for growth.
Three-years-old Nii Ayitey shows off his painting at the Freedom Parade
The third and final march was led by 12-year-old Nikel Kafui Agama, who asked for equal economic and educational opportunities for children across the country, irrespective of their location. Her desire is to travel freely within Africa without the weight of visa restrictions.
A spiritual exercise to reconnect with African ancestral roots, as well as atone and celebrate the lives and sacrifices of African ancestors, the festival also created the space for spoken word and visual artists to leave their imprints on the minds and sights of patrons.