Nana Akua Kwarteng

"Nana’s Afternoon Tea"

Section MS2, Kelly Spanou

Keywords: identity, colonial studies

When it comes to defining who we are, it is rare that one can speak about identity without some element of it being rooted in nationality and/or culture. The Oxford Dictionary defines identity as ‘The fact of being who or what a person or thing is.’ But how does one choose, shape and form their identity? More importantly, how do we express this identity to the world?

As a second-generation British immigrant, I have always felt an internal struggle when it comes to defining my identity. I am torn between my country of natation and that of my parents: my national identity and my cultural identity. It is never quite enough to say I am British, but it does not feel quite right to say I am wholly Ghanaian. Much of the time my British identity takes prevalence which feels as an injustice to my Ghanaian identity, but it is often difficult for me to feel truly connected to my Ghanaian identity all the time. It is only through the stories I am told by my parents and grandparents and the rare occasions that I get to wear clothing made from traditional Ghanaian fabrics and patterns, that I truly feel connected to my Ghanaian identity.

Thus, my media of choice for this project is Textiles. Fabric and textiles have always been intrinsically linked to the identity of Ghana as a nation and Ghanaians as a people. Throughout Ghana’s history, fabric and textiles have played a key role within culture, society, tradition and rituals. The fabrics, patterns, colours and symbols are more than just visual and aesthetic choices but have been used to send messages, tell stories and reflect social and political change. It is foundational to the Ghanaian identity and for me, an avenue through which I can authentically express my Ghanaian identity.

In a day and age of increasing globalisation and homogenisation where cultures and traditions are being consolidated, lost and forgotten, how can one clearly identify with one country or another – one culture or another. Colonialisation and cross-pollination has blurred the lines and diluted the waters that used to separate clearly one person from another, one culture from another and one identity from another. Whilst this is not necessarily wholly negative, it has resulted in complicated and tenuous relationships and discussions around identity and belonging. For me personally, reflecting on my own identity, how I can truly begin to express, explore and define the duality of my identity and can textiles be the medium through which I do this? My project is research based and involves researching into the history of fabric and textiles in Ghana – its origins, the different styles and how these have morphed and evolved into the contemporary patterns and textiles that are produced nowadays. This also includes detailed investigations into the significance of colours and patterns used in Ghanaian fabrics, the processes of making the fabric itself and the role fabric and textiles has played overtime in terms of culture, social structures, traditions, rituals and also national identity. More specifically, I have also researched the impact of colonialisation and globalisation on textiles and fabrics in Ghana which has led to the commodification and homogenisation of these textiles, prints and patterns. I have made tests of fabrics and patterns prototypes, exploring how these can be reinterpreted and transposed to relate to me personally and reflect my identity.

This project responds to the themes of repetition, multiples and seriality as these are all key components of Ghanaian textiles and pattern making. Many of these textiles rely on the repetition of a simple series of patterns or symbols which underpin the fabrics and the stories they tell. Within my own work, I use repetition in the production methods of the fabrics and the patterns themselves, as well as multiples in terms of the manifestation and representation of these fabric patterns.