Anniversary notes on attempts to date and place a poem (p.117)- Ama Ata Aidoo

As Always, a Painful Declaration of Independence
Ama Ata Aidoo
Glasgow (Scotland) September 21,1991.

Barby Asante is a London based artist – with family in Glasgow and Scotland – she is also a curator and educator, working across film, performance, writing and events. Her work is concerned the politics of place, space and the ever-present histories and legacies of slavery and colonialism, in particular how we remember through diaspora when people of colour are 2, 3, 4 more generations removed from M-Otherlands. In 2016 GoMA began a conversation with the artist Barby Asante about a commission to respond to the history of the GoMA building. These conversations with Barby have developed into an exciting new commission realised this year and supported by Art Fund to make three new chapters for her ongoing work – The Queen and the Black Eyed-Squint – which will be acquired for Glasgow Museums’ collection and displayed in GoMA in spring 2022.

Filming The Queen and the Black-Eyed Squint, July 2021. Photo Tiu Makkonen

The Queen and the Black- Eyed Squint re-collects and re-activates two moments in the lives of two Ghanaian women – one real, and one fictional – at different moments in time. On 4th March 1957 Monica Amekoafia was crowned the first Miss Ghana. Her prize was a visit to London and the UK, which was filmed in a Pathé newsreel. In 1977 Ama Ata Aidoo’s debut novel Our Sister Killjoy was published. Also known as Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint, Aidoo’s novel follows the story of Sissie, a young educated Ghanaian woman, who goes to Europe to ‘better’ herself and describes what she sees. Asante’s re-activation brings them into the present through place, embodiment and scale. Exploring belonging and cultural memory and amnesia, Asante takes on the roles of Sissie and the beauty queen and visits sites of historical importance in the places she visits. These historical references are then related to a contemporary discourse on Empire, race and colonialism.

Filming The Queen and the Black-Eyed Squint, July 2021. Photo Tiu Makkonen

For her commission with GoMA, Barby has the core film in these next three chapters located and rooted in the history and buildings of Glasgow, particularly museums and the civic buildings built on merchant money acquired through slavery and Empire while also looking at contemporary events in the city. Her research into the work of Ama Ata Aidoo also revealed another connection to the city. In 2017 Barby began an ongoing project around Ama Ata Aidoo’s poem As Always, a Painful Declaration of Independence. The project Declaration of Independence is a performative forum designed to mirror the conference halls used to negotiate and produce treaties of independence, coalitions, trade deals, manifestos and policies. It began in 2017 and has been ongoing with over 70 womxn responding to Aidoo’s poem through their own writing. These individual declarations of independence have come together as a video installation, live performances and sound pieces, foregrounding the role of womxn of colour, the importance of collective thinking, the value of personal narratives in history and daily ritual. 

Declaration of Independence, Baltic, February 2019

It was first performed at the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2017), Troppenmusem, Amsterdam (2018), Baltic (2019), Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen (2020) and most recently at Brent 2020 (2020).

Page 117, An Angry Letter in January, Ama Ata Aidoo

Ama Ata Aidoo’s As Always, a Painful Declaration of Independence is from the 1992 collection – An Angry Letter in January and in the notes section at the end of the book Barby discovered that the poem is placed in Glasgow and dated September 21, 1991. We are now 30 years on from that date and are marking this anniversary and noting that her words continue to resonate today.

Leave a Reply