Oforiatta Ayim: the Ghanaian historian who is changing the African narrative

Theodora Aidoo Jan 30, 2020 at 12:00pm

January 30, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Success Story, Women

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

January 30, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Success Story, Women

Nana Oforiatta Ayim

Nana Oforiatta Ayim is a writer, filmmaker, and art historian, who is changing the narrative about Africa.

She is keen on writing and rewriting narratives of the African continent and Diaspora.

“I want to help create a bridge between our ways of seeing and understanding which were centuries old and where we were today, to somehow heal the fragmentation brought about by the colonial encounter…,” she told Face2Face Africa.

Nana Ayim worked for the Eastern European section of the Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations, researching and creating policy propositions, largely on conflict situations, in Chechnya, Azerbaijan.

During her time with the UN, she soon learned that politics only had a limited capacity to affect change because there was so much compromise and in a way, lack of accountability.

She has Master’s in African Art History. She speaks quite a few languages and according to her, the more languages she learned, the more she understood different kinds of people and different realities.

Pic Credit: Nana Ofosuaa Oforiatta Ayim

“I spent my teens working in youth advocacy for a charity called Youth Ending Hunger. I joined when I was 13 and by the time I was 15, I and three other girls, Anna from Sweden and Elif from Turkey were asked to lead a conference in Turkey with hundreds of people present, including the then President of Turkey and lots of journalists,” she told Face2face Africa.

“I was terrified, but also believed so much that we had the power, even as children, to effect real positive change in the world. We spoke to politicians, we brainstormed policy changes, we cycled from London to Moscow to raise awareness,” the Ghanaian added.

As a writer, she said the arts transformed her, taught her about the world, about herself and about others and now she is playing a role in shaping the narrative of Africa, which is still portrayed as largely negative.

When she realized that writing was not enough, she made several films, a cross of fiction, travel essays, and documentaries that have featured at museums like The New Museum, Tate Modern, and LACMA.

In November 2019, her first novel, “The God Child” was first published by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Pic Credit: Nana Ofosuaa Oforiatta Ayim

Beyond being a writer, she is also a global speaker on cultural narratives and institution building in countries like Ghana, Senegal, the UK, US, Germany, Holland, Denmark, France, and Brazil. She is tipped to speak at both Harvard and Yale later this year.

She noted her dream is for stories rooted in Africa to reach out and touch anyone anywhere in the world and expand the world for them; that African and Diasporic children anywhere will see themselves reflected, acknowledged, lifted high; that communities from Africa and its Diasporas experience daily pride in themselves and their cultures; and that we take our place as equals.

Nana Ayim founded the ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge through which she has pioneered projects such as ‘The Mobile Museum’, and The Pan-African Cultural Encyclopaedia; curating groundbreaking exhibitions such as Ghana’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019.

ANO was derived from ‘Eno’ meaning grandmother. Whenever Nana Ayim traveled to Kyebi, her hometown in Ghana, it was the old women, who told her the stories, the meanings behind things.

Nana Ayim sought to go deeper and further into those meanings and discover what ways of understanding the world were before we were told, for the sake of control, that they were wrong and wicked.

Pic Credit: Nana Ofosuaa Oforiatta Ayim

She wanted to help create a bridge between African ways of seeing and understanding which were centuries old and where we were at today, to somehow heal the fragmentation brought about by the colonial encounter hence the creation of the Encyclopaedia, a Pan-African archive initiative devoted to past, present and future culture from around the African continent.

According to her, culture can help one look beneath the surface of what is happening to the deeper root causes. “How have we forgotten how to know ourselves, to heal ourselves, to love ourselves? What systems did we create that united and made us stronger? We are of the oldest culture, the oldest civilization in the world, and we hold so much wisdom within us. I think it’s time that we articulated and shared it as best as we know how.”

She has just been appointed to the Advisory Council of Oxford University and she’s been given a leadership role in the $15 million OSF fund for African Cultural Restitution. This year she became a MOMA Curatorial Leadership Fellow.

Nana Ayim is a recipient of the 2015 Art & Technology Award from LACMA in the United States. The following year, she got the AIR Award, which “seeks to honour and celebrate extraordinary African artists who are committed to producing provocative, innovative and socially-engaging work”; of the inaugural 2018 Soros Arts Fellowship.

She is a Ghanaian with many hats. She was named one of the Apollo ’40 under 40’; she’s one of 50 African Trailblazers by The Africa Report; a Quartz Africa Innovator; and was a 2018 Global South Visiting Fellow at Oxford University.

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