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|The art gallery of the Mennonite Heritage Centre | Work of Hands | into the forgotten heart|
Two from Africa
March 3 - March 25
The “Work of Hands” was completed by library members and adult literacy students of the Osu Library in Accra, Ghana, West Africa.
In Ghana, everything is done by hand. That’s what the literacy students proudly announced to me early in my internship, putting me to shame for my culture’s dependence on machines. It was a theme that emerged over and over in their conversational and written literacy work. The literacy class is a group of over 30 adults ranging from 19 to 40 years of age. They have their own stories of what brought them to the classes and they come from varied backgrounds and parts of the country — working as seamstresses, house-help, hairdressers, construction workers, carpenters or traders.
The drawings, paintings, photographs and the collaborative collage and installation were inspired by words and images from the students’ creative writing and other written class work. What impressed me was the patience and dignity the students brought to the most labourious, repetitive daily tasks, and that it was with the same patience, dignity and determination that they pressed on with their increasingly challenging assignments. We had a conversation about the importance of practicing literacy skills everyday to build and maintain them, and they seized on the metaphor of literacy as a tool, like a hammer or a broom, and that one becomes skilled at it by using it. It also came out that each of them has a story to tell that is like a rope coiled up inside of them, and the reason for my ceaseless questions was that the questions were like the knots on the rope that I was using to pull their stories out.
A lot of the metaphors we use in speech to describe conceptual work are drawn from the language of manual labour: tying ideas together like the tying of cloth; doing some digging refers to reflection and research; sifting to describe the sorting of facts and ideas; weaving a tale is like one weaving cloth or braiding hair, and a pile of papers is referred to as a heavy load. The literacy students intimately know what tying is, what digging and weaving are and what carrying a heavy load is. These physical acts grant the doer a certain satisfaction. They carry with them something positive and hopeful, because they all involve a symbolic development from chaos to order. Everyday working people in Ghana use their hands to order and beautify their world.
What does literacy mean to them? In one assignment they observed and recorded the slogans on the backs of tro-tros (small buses). Among those recorded were “Not as you think”, and “Open your eyes”. The students have opened themselves up to a difficult process of learning and unlearning, of finding out that things are often not as they thought, like a historic slave castle we visited on a field trip, the correct spelling of a word that totally changes its pronunciation, or what the map of Accra really looks like. Literacy, for them, opens the door to a creative process and a way of thinking. They used this new way of thinking to bring awareness to their daily tasks, whether it was responding to the sensual beauty of printed cloth, understanding the punchy slogans on tro-tros, analyzing the lyrics of a favourite song, or recognizing the beauty all around them with throw-away cameras. The theme of the exhibit is a celebration of the hands that made all of these things, the unique individual behind each set of hands, as well as local wisdom and tradition maintained in an ongoing process of transformation through literacy.
"Work of Hands" is brought to the MHCGallery by Winnipegger Kathy Knowles and the Osu Children’s Library Fund. This is the second time the gallery has partnered with Osu. The exhibition was brought together by Canadian Krissy Darch. Darch spent the last eight months in Ghana as a Canadian International Development Agency sponsored Art and Literacy Facilitator for Osu. Osu is a Winnipeg and Ghana success story. Negative stories from Africa tend to garner nearly all the attention the West gives to the continent. There are success stories. We need to hear them, see them. Come and celebrate a significant one.
& drawin’ together for peace
This exhibit is a combination of photographs (individual photographs, manipulated photo collages), sand paintings by Pembela and children’s art. The DR Congo is the third largest country in Africa. It dominates the heart of the continent. There have been up to 4,000,000 Congolese war related deaths in the past decade — more than in any other country in the world. This largely unknown and forgotten country is home to one of the largest Mennonite communities in the world, about 200,000 strong. The exhibit introduces viewers to the Congo through the Mennonite communities in Kinshasa, the throbbing, chaotic capital of 7,000,000; Kajiji, a remote and beautiful village near the Angolan border; and Kikwit, a city of 800,000 in Bandundu province. The photos are complimented by children’s art from a Mennonite school in Kinshasa on the theme of peace.
Discover the true heart of the Congo. Discover resilient people, individuals committed to peace, churches struggling to be positive forces for reconciliation in a troubled land. Find hope in the forgotten heart.
Remember. For those in our audience inclined to pray, please, remember the Congolese people in your prayers as the country heads for its first potentially free and fair elections tentatively scheduled for late April and June. The elections are a monumental undertaking in a country with perhaps the worst transportation system in the world, little infrastructure and no history of free elections. Yet, the vast majority of citizens are already registered to vote — a positive and virtually miraculous first step.