Theophilus Kwesi Mensah and the Placemaking Paradigm
Within the rebranding and the making of new identity for Winneba as enshrined in the Effutu Dream Project, the name Theophilus Kwesi Mensah cannot be overlooked in this intercourse. This is not only because he engineered the widely talked about installations: the Unity Monument, The Aboakyer Monument, The Fishermen of Akosua Village and the Monument of Ofarnyi Kwegya but the awe-striking aesthetical connotations he incorporated in the aforementioned works. Each of these statues were rendered to mimic the idea of Winneba as a community built on a collective space. Being native of Winneba, heightened his understanding of how the amalgamation of economic, political, and cultural activities in the past, would accord him the impetus to express himself publicly. In so doing, he empowered his sculptures to ventriloquy the unique narratives that define Winneba and redefine this relatively old settlement yet burgeoning municipality as a dwelling place or a place worth visiting.
Figure 1: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, Ofarnyi Kwegya, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. Yeepimso Community Centre, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
Through the lens of placemaking, Ofarnyi Kwegya (Figure 1) and the Fishermen of Akosua Village (Figure 2) are two typical statues that has beautified the vernacular space of two historical settlements in the older southern half of Winneba.
Figure 2: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, Fishermen of Akosua Village, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. Akosua Village Community Centre, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
The two statues stand in the middle of Yeepimso and Akosua Village communities respectively as embodiments of vital ingredients helping in creating a sense of community, civic identity, and culture in both spaces. They have both transformed their unique sites as lively and attractive communities with the monumental figures not just becoming legible maps to the sites but turning the spaces into places that support human interactions. The site of the statue has become the most important and attractive places in the two communities. They have become the center of attraction where the community gather for entertainment and trade, especially at night when economic activities in the two communities are at their peak.
Figure 3: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, Unity Monument, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. The Unity Square, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
Another compelling monumental statue that has transformed the landscape of its site is the Unity Monument (Figure 3). Before the advent of the monument, the site of the statue (the Y-intersection – Winneba Traffic Light) was a deserted barricaded mere chaparral which displayed all forms of notices including obituaries and political posters (Mensah & Abraham, 2022). Yet, Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s statue has transformed the space into an ideologically charged space for a deliberative unity and peace agenda in Winneba. The environment is so aesthetically pleasing that people like to visit the site for selfies and sightseeing thereby generating income for the Municipal Assembly.
Figure 4: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, The Aboakyer Monument, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. Osimpam Museum, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s ontological orientation of Winneba is multifaceted. Hence, he found significance in the century’s old festival of the people of Winneba, Aboakyer to sculpt a monumental statue to this honour (Figure 4). The Aboakyer Monument mounted on the roof-top of the Osim Pam Museum is at the heart of Winneba as an embodiment of Winneba’s heritage. Owing to the enormous narratives surrounding the Aboakyer Festival, it is seen as one of the most popular and most significant festivals in Ghana (Akyeampong, 2019). The people of Winneba are invariably identified by the Aboakyir Festival. Theophilus Kwesi Mensah captured the very essence of the festival by vividly depicting the most significant characters: the Supi, the Asafo warriors, and their cheer leaders in procession with the catch.
During the 2022 Aboakyer Festival, it was observed that both celebrants and tourist were awe-struck by the aesthetic connotations of the monument. People gathered around the site for various reasons. Whilst some were seen taking tourist photos, others were seen venerating the ancestors who in the past led the festival.
In view of the Effutu Dream Project, Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s artistic ingenuity to a large extent has contributed to rebranding the Winneba Township by beautifying the place and making it attractive for tourist. However, beyond the beautification agenda, part of the underlining philosophy of the statues was to consciously bring to the fore, some compelling memories of Winneba in relation to the current narratives within the land.
Theophilus Kwesi Mensah and the Collective Memories of Winneba
Theophilus Kwesi Mensah capitalized on his creativity to translate some notable historical events pertaining to his beloved native, Winneba into tangible remnants of the recent past to shape and, indeed, consolidate the Effutu Dream Project. Whilst usurping a storyteller, he equipped his statues to mimic the historiography of Winneba as collective memorials for the publics of Winneba. This is underpinned by his inclination to the truism that cities are built based on their histories and for that matter, Winneba cannot be gentrified without laying claims to the past publicly. Therefore, he ensured that whilst the Effutu Municipal Assembly initiated the Effutu Dream Project, the glorification of the public triumphs of Winneba was not taken for granted. This desire culminated into transforming some important public vernacular spaces into storehouse of memories embedded and inscribed on the landscape of Winneba.
Figure 5: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, Ofarnyi Kwegya, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. Yeepimso Community Centre, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
Figure 6: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, Fishermen of Akosua Village, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. Akosua Village, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
Knowing Winneba traditionally as a fishing community, Theophilus Kwesi Mensah produced two major monuments, Ofarnyi Kwegya (Figure 5) and the Fishermen of Akosua Village (Figure 6) as a concretized instantiation to the noble trade that has in the past defined what place Winneba is. Ofranyi Kwegya, is the statue of the unheralded giant master fisherman, an exponent of mid water trawling in Winneba who captured huge number of fish whereas the Fishermen of Akosua Village depict the famous trio: Zagada Afadzinu, Kwami Akpade and Sogbka Dagodzo who introduced artisanal fishing or subsistence fishing to Winneba.
Although the fishermen portrayed in these monumental statues have died long ago, they constitute such significant heroes in the historiography of Winneba. In view of their important roles in the socio-economic phenomenology of Winneba, Theophilus Kwesi Mensah aimed at stopping their decay and position them into the realm of the timeless with the erection of their statues as memorials that transmit their archetypal narratives.
Figure 7: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah, Unity Monument, 2021. Fibre Reinforced Polymer. The Unity Square, Winneba. Courtesy of Edem Dedi Photography.
In view of Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s understanding of the political and dynastic heritage of Winneba, he engineered the construction of the Unity Monument in commemoration of the end of the protracted chieftaincy feud that had ensued in Winneba in the past. Ephraim-Donkor (2019) recount that since the latter part of the nineteenth century, the people of Winneba have clashed in violent struggle for power until 22nd July, 2015 when the Supreme Court of Ghana, finally intervened. The feud was rooted in an uncanny clash of cultures within the same family three, resulting in a political quagmire as to which succession mode to follow, the male or female model. The people of Winneba traditionally follow the patrilineal line of succession, however the Acquahs who are for the female model, tasted power as caretakers but refused to cede power back to the original benefactors, the Otuano Royal Family (Gyatehs or Gharteys) who are for the male model.
The female model became popular in Winneba because of their hospitality which allowed their Akan neighbours to live with them and rendered Winneba as a cosmopolitan community. Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’ depicted the two families, Gharteys and the Acquahs and a third figure representing the non-natives as a united force in the gentrification of Winneba as they erect a flag as signifier to this commitment. The Unity Monument does not only exhibit an aesthetically astute display of Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s artistic ingenuity but also, it encapsulates the political and dynastic history of Winneba whilst being a crucible of memory to the unity and peace in Winneba presently.
As part of Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s memorialization agenda with regards to his statues in Effutu Dream, he produced the iconic Aboakyer Monument as a memorial to the Aboakyer Festival of the Effutus of Winneba. The Aboakyer, known throughout Ghana as the "Winneba Deer Hunting Festival," is held annually in early May. It commemorates the founding of Winneba some three centuries ago, when the Effutu, led by one Osim Pam and accompanied by the god Penkye Otu, settled on the coast at the end of their migratory journey from northern Ghana to the present location.
Pedagogical Connotations of Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s Statues in Effutu Dream
As artist academic, having been under the tutelage of the Emancipatory Art Teaching Project (EATP) by Professor kąrî’kạchä seid’ou, he is an alley of the blaxTARLINES community in Kumasi. Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s practice ties in with contemporaneity in the arts. In his teaching, he identifies with the philosophy that trainee art educators ought to think and act creatively. He does this by championing their epiphany in the studio as nexus of exploring emerging issues in art education. Through the studio, his statues in Effutu Dream creatively imparts on his students as agents of transformation in addressing the urgent call for equity, diversity, and inclusion in our educational structure and practices.
Whilst his students have the liberty to choose their own masters, he has been readily available, and the doors of his studio was opened to all students who loved art whilst working on his statues in Effutu Dream. After all, he too has absorbed lessons from legendary Ghanaian Artist Academics such as Benjamin Menya, Kwamevi Zewuze Adzraku and Buckner Komla Dogbe. So, students with varied backgrounds are mainstays in his studio beyond the statues in Effutu Dream. He reckons the studio space as a crucible of intellect and a window to add to knowledge as his students pick his brain as apprentices there.
Figure 8: Theophilus Kwesi Mensah working with his students
Despite his inclination to EATP, he does not sway from being a traditionalist in the sense that he continues to enjoy working from the human figure. His preference to the human figure in his statues in Effutu Dream was informed by the truism that life changes and the language of sculpture evolves. So, it does not really matter if he is being repetitious with a subject that has preoccupied sculptors throughout history. Yet, as didactic symbols, he sought to make explicit what many sculptors make implicit in contemporary memorials in a classical sense with his figurative renditions.
Whilst the public may tend to be passive receptors of his statues in Effutu Dream, his students cannot afford to be indifferent. There are obvious educational imperatives they naturally cannot ignore. As far as they look and see the statues, there are predisposed to learn from them by asking questions. Reis (2010) citing Silva (1984) concerning public art claimed that even if we do not pay any attention to it, daily contact influences our attitude towards the conservation of artworks and our intellectual and sensory appropriation of them. What more do students need to get motivated in their studies aside having the opportunity to see the works of their lecturer installed all over the community? As artist academic, Theophilus Kwesi Mensah thrives to integrate his vast knowledge in the art into the practice of cultivating artistic design talent. His contribution to knowledge is application oriented. His statues in Effutu Dream make meaningful contributions to practical solutions that are at the core of art education. His students garner the nuances of what he says in the classroom when they see his statues in town.
Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s ingenuity as a sculptor, draftsman and an academician are undeniable, so too is his energy and prolific creative output in the wider Effutu Dream Project. Within a trilogy of paradigms, he displays a profound representation of Winneba as a beautiful place to live and work. He does so by immortalizing four important collective memories of the town whilst using Fibre Reinforced Polymer, a material that stands the test of time and exudes a sense of eternalness. In the process, his students tapped into his creative sense both at his studio and on site.
Whilst Theophilus Kwesi Mensah’s artistic praxis is eclectic, what I have sketched is a heuristic effort to describe his monumental contribution in the Effutu Dream Project in his beloved Winneba where he lives and practice as artist academic. The few details I have carved may at times be minor, but they add up to have a larger impact to his contributions in the effort to redesign and develop Winneba.
- Akyeampong, O. A. (2019). Aboakyer: traditional festival in decline. Ghana Social Science Journal, 16(1), 97.
- Farman J (2015). Stories, spaces, and bodies: The production of embodied space through mobile media storytelling. Communication Research and Practice 1(2): 101–116.
- Mensah, T. K. & Abraham, E. K. (2022, June). The unity monument: A hope of the end to the political quagmire in simpa. Paper Presented at The Creative Arts Conference, University of Education, Winneba, Ghana
- Reis, R. (2010). Public art as an educational resource. International Journal of Education through Art, 6(1), 85-96.