States of the Arts


Fresh and Fading Memories

by El Anatsui
Mixed media

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From afar, Fresh and Fading Memories looks like a shimmering sheet of fabric, its golden form blanketing the wall from which it hangs. Only on a closer look does the work reveal itself to be not cloth, but metal. Its rows of aluminium bottle-tops were gathered by the artist, to be later flattened, pierced, and strung together with copper wire. This painstaking process is at odds with the manufactured materials, while the mishmash of branding is lost in the sheer size of El Anatsui’s creation. At the 2007 Venice Biennale, the piece was draped on the outer façade of the Palazzo Fortuny Museum, the waste products of consumption recast as art.

Words by John Wadsworth

The Stuart Hall Project

directed by John Akomfrah

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Mist hangs in the air over the quiet rooves of London. Condensation clings to blurred windows. Against this backdrop, we hear the voice of Stuart Hall, the renowned cultural theorist, sharing his thoughts on social change, race, and politics. This documentary considers Hall’s legacy, interweaving his words with archive footage, which casts us back to a time when smoke still billowed from Battersea Power Station and Margaret Thatcher was in power. We are guided through Hall’s life and work, and introduced to the arguments that made him one of the most respected academics of the last-half century.

Words by Hugh Maloney

Songs of Sorrow

by Kofi Awoonor

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‘Songs of Sorrow’ echoes the dirges of the Ewe people, taking oral tradition as its starting point. Kofi Awoonor’s audience may not be standing before him, but he still addresses them as if they were: ‘My people, I have been somewhere’. This place proves unforgiving; suffering lies in every direction. Here the beating rain, there the burning sun. ‘Returning is not possible / And going forward is a great difficulty’. The second section invokes the names of ancestors, sitting them alongside a roll call of woes: broken fences, snakebites, termites, vultures. Death casts a shadow over all, as a cause of grief ‘so great that I cannot weep’.

Words by John Wadsworth

Ghana Freedom

by E. T. Mensah

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‘Ghana, we now have freedom / Ghana, land of freedom.’ Composed following the end of British colonial rule in his home country, E. T. Mensah’s ode to national independence is both a celebration and a serious statement of fact. The entertainer is known as the pioneer of highlife, a genre that fuses West African rhythms with jazz. With ‘Ghana Freedom’, Mensah’s buoyant tone is combined with earnest lyrics, while his singing alternates with more emotive spoken sections and shouts from the band. The music combines lightness and solemnity, too. The percussion instruments assemble a danceable groove from layered syncopations, while the brass section interjects with a dignified, almost hymnal melody.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

Fresh and Fading Memories: Read more about El Anatsui on the October Gallery website. Mélissa Leclézio has written about the artist for The Culture Trip.

The Stuart Hall Project: Watch the trailer here. Georgia Korossi has written about the film for BFI.

Songs of Sorrow: Read the poem here.

Ghana Freedom: Listen to the song here.

Question of the day

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