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Portrait of James Barnor by Dan Kirmatzis (2022)

Celebrating James Barnor, Ghana’s Iconic Photographer at 95

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James Barnor 95 Festival: Celebrating a Legacy of Art and Culture

On June 6th, 2024, James Barnor, the legendary Ghanaian photographer, will celebrate his 95th birthday. To honor this milestone, the James Barnor 95 Festival will take place in Ghana, featuring a rich program of exhibitions, screenings, and concerts. This festival not only commemorates Barnor’s contributions to photography but also aims to make a lasting impact on Ghana’s arts and culture scene.

James Barnor was born in Ghana in 1929 and established the famous Ever Young studio in Accra, capturing the nation’s pivotal moments, including its independence. As Ghana’s first photojournalist, Barnor collaborated with The Daily Graphic and was also the official photographer of the nation’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. After moving to London in 1959, he mastered color photography at Medway College of Art and contributed to Drum magazine, a vital anti-apartheid publication. In the late 1960s, Barnor returned to Ghana to establish the first color photography lab in the country. His illustrious career includes working for state agencies and maintaining Studio X23 in Accra.

Portrait of James Barnor by Dan Kirmatzis (2022)

Festival Highlights

The festival will feature a unique historical document, the fully digitized archive developed by Barnor and his gallery over the past seven years. This archive offers a comprehensive insight into Barnor’s prolific career, spanning over six decades and two continents. It includes over 30,000 negatives meticulously annotated by the artist. This online database is not only a testament to Barnor’s vision but also an invitation to reconsider the role of the archive in the digital age, creating new ties between communities and cultural heritage.

The festival aims to create dialogues between Barnor’s historical works and contemporary Ghanaian artists. This will be more than a retrospective; it will serve as an opportunity for discourse between a historical archive and Ghana’s vibrant contemporary arts scene. By presenting Barnor’s work alongside contemporary Ghanaian actors, the festival intends to bridge past and present to inspire new artistic and curatorial approaches. Contributions from internationally recognized artist Ibrahim Mahama, young artist and archivist Rita Mawuena Benissan, and Dela Anyah, whose work incorporates archiving and documentation with the use of discarded materials, will be highlighted. Sixteen young photographers will also showcase their work in the sixteen regions of Ghana, ensuring Barnor’s enduring visual legacy.

All of the exhibitions will be free to access by the general public and extended for several months. The festival team is committed to building a lasting impact on the local arts scene by actively engaging with the community and focus on inclusivity. By expanding locations to Tamale (SCCA, Red Clay Nuku Studio) and all sixteen regional capitals, including a moving exhibition in a reconditioned aeroplane to be transported by road through six regions of Ghana, its program aims to reach rarely targeted audiences. The exhibition in Jamestown (Accra) will invest in public outdoor spaces, bringing the neighborhood’s history to the current residents and will be completely interactive through a two-day community archiving workshop for residents’ photo albums and family photos. A comprehensive guide and map will be printed and published by The Daily Graphic and distributed for free. The festival will also be accessible digitally on Google Maps.

The festival also emphasizes responsible cultural practices. Gender equality is prioritized on multiple levels, from the production/curatorial teams to exhibitions and activities. Environmental impact is also addressed by partnering with local providers, reusing exhibition materials, and opting for slow shipping methods whenever possible. The team strives to minimize the festival’s carbon footprint through a partnership with the NGO Environment360, which will recycle the plastic generated by the exhibitions.

The James Barnor 95 Festival will attract global media attention, showcasing Ghana’s vibrant arts scene. The project is directed and produced by James Barnor and the Clémentine de la Féronnière Gallery with support from private and public funding. The James Barnor Foundation’s trustees include notable figures like Myx Quest, John Akomfrah, and Damarice Amao.

The James Barnor 95 Festival is more than an homage; it is a bridge connecting past and present, enriching the future of Ghanaian arts and culture. Join us in celebrating the life and work of James Barnor, whose photography not only documented history but also shaped the visual narrative of Ghana and the African diaspora.

For more details about the festival, please contact: [email protected]

Ivy Prosper

Digital Creator, Writer, Producer, Speaker