How African politics influenced its architecture

by MMC
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SOAS University of London has unveiled Building Africa, an exhibition exploring the relationship between architecture and politics, focusing on the architecture of state institutions in Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia. Its curators, African studies professor Julia Gallagher and postdoctoral researcher Kuukuwa Manful, commissioned design teams from these countries to collect and reinterpret local impressions of the iconic buildings at these sites. It is these works that have been collected and recreated for Building Africa.

Source: Beth Boswell-Knight

Building Africa Installation

Each exhibition responds to research carried out by Gallagher and Manful as part of African State Architecture, a five-year project within the university, exploring architectural expressions of the state across the continent. These three countries represent just some of the areas covered by the project and aim to provide a representative sample of political power and identity across the continent.

Ethiopia’s offering is a large umbrella-shaped installation, the Tilla, named after an Amharic word evoking shade, shelter and protection.

For the South Africa section, the architecture collective Matri-Archi(tecture) examines two important buildings of the South African state: the Union Buildings, former seat of the colonial government and now offices of the president of the nation; and the Constitutional Court building, built on the site of the infamous Old Fort Prison, which housed high-profile political prisoners including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Photographs and clay models of fragments of these buildings placed in desks were initially exhibited in Johannesburg. Written records of visitors’ comments provide insight into how these buildings are perceived in the collective consciousness.

Source:Julia Gallagher

Aude Tollo from the Matri-Archi(tecture) Collective who is putting together the Johannesburg exhibition

The Ghana team presents Ananse Playhouse, a structure with a web-like exterior inspired by Ananse, a folkloric character of the Akan people of central and southern Ghana. The performance hall is decorated with photographs, models and objects from important Ghanaian buildings, including Osu Castle, Jubilee House and Kpando Secondary School, forming a complex network of state and institutional power.

Ethiopia’s offering is a large khaki and orange umbrella-shaped installation called Tilla, named after an Amharic word connoting shade, shelter and protection. Designed to protect visitors from the sun and rain (it was originally displayed outdoors in Addis Ababa), the structure is largely empty and is described as using “augmented reality and animation” to tell the story. history of the chosen buildings. This means users must scan a series of QR codes to access information about key buildings in the African State Architecture project, including the Zimbabwe Parliament Building, the African Union Headquarters andand the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Ivory Coast.

Source: Beth Boswell-Knight

Building Africa Installation

The exhibition film, produced by Gallagher, presents the results of the research project that inspired the exhibition through a compilation of interviews, news clips, archival footage and photographs. The film explores how key political and institutional buildings in South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shape political power and cultural identity. The narration and stories presented speak volumes about power, persistence of this influence – as as well as its mutability.

The location chosen by Kwame Nkrumah for the seat of Ghana’s first post-independence government, at the great Osu Castle – a fort with a long history of colonial rule – can be seen as an attempt to capitalize on its past. associations with authority and control. Conversely, the construction of the Constitutional Court of South Africa on the former premises of the Vieux Fort prison seek a symbolic subversion of the site’s oppressive past through the creation of a court dedicated to protecting the equal and constitutional rights of all citizens.

The cobweb-like Ananse Playhouse is decorated with photographs, models and artifacts from important Ghanaian buildings.

Beyond strictly political buildings, stadiums and airports also participate in this power game. Former DRC President Mobutu Sese Seko used the “Stade du 20 Mai” in Kinshasa to gather large crowds for his rallies and enthusiastic speeches, as well as to appease the masses through sporting entertainment – ​​the match of The 1974 boxing “Rumble in the Jungle” between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali is a significant example. Meanwhile, Addis Ababa Bole Airport, although it acts as a major hub for intra and intercontinental travel, is seen by many as a self-aggrandizing projection of the power and superiority of the Ethiopia in Africa.

Source: Count Abrahams

The original South Africa exhibition in Johannesburg

Africa is generally seen as a hotbed of political oppression, corruption and instability, and is often dismissed on this basis. By mapping and studying its public buildings, Building Africa and the broader African State Architecture project go some way to revealing the specificities, complexities and ambiguities of the mechanisms of political power as articulated in the architecture of the continent.

Building Africa is at Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London WC1, until March 16

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