This Ghanaian Woman Is Creating A 54-Volume Encyclopedia On African Culture And It Is Amazing AF

By: Kwaku Darko | 7 Day(s) ago

Meet Nana Oforiatta-Ayim

A Ghanaian writer and a PhD art historian who back in 2009 conceived the idea of creating a comprehensive archive of African art and culture.


About what inspired her, this is what she had to say when she was speaking to the New York Times;

I would go to the underground library vaults, and I would find theses that were so brilliant and interesting, and yet no one was looking at it and it is so valuable, “I would get completely sidetracked reading about things like the technology of kente cloth. And at the same time I was also thinking that the narrative that is told about Africa is still the backwards narrative: no innovation, it’s ahistorical and stuck. Yet with everything I was reading, it was stories of innovation, of knowledge, of technology.

Now, her idea has materialised and she’s come out with a 54-Volume “Cultural Encyclopaedia” which will register art from each African country, reason why the volume stands at 54.

She will start with an internet based repository of historical and contemporary Ghanaian art, music, literature and more.

She previously worked with Sir David Adjaye, the architect behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture‘s building and she has gathered some team of Ghanaian musicians, filmmakers, photographers, writers and more to help curate and edit the encyclopaedia’s first volume.

It is not going to be an easy job but Oforiatta-Ayim already has a plan in place to roll out future volumes. And this was her explanation of how it will be done;

So if other countries are going to take it on, then we are going to have a manual like, ‘this is how we collect things, this is what we did wrong and this is what we did right.’ There is no reason that, once we have the manual, there can’t be five countries at the same time working. So what I am doing is building teams in different countries.

She furthered explained that there will also be art exhibits to accompany the online encyclopaedia, the first of which premiered last week at Oforiatta-Ayim’s ANO gallery and research institution, in conjunction with Ghana’s 60th independence day.


A lot of well known Africans are really excited about the project, an example is a Nigerian musician, Kezia Jones, who commended the project by saying,

What makes up the culture itself? And that is why it is open-ended and it is widespread in music, arts, language, dance. Every possible aspect is used and usable. It’s trying to tell your own stories and taking hold of your narrative.

David Adjaye also contributed to the project by saying,

The “Cultural Encyclopedia Project” is about reclaiming African history, but it’s also about expanding knowledge of history and culture within the continent as well. It is such an important thing,” says David Adjaye.”Because actually East Africans don’t know about West Africans’ culture, and West Africans don’t know about North Africans’ culture, and North Africans don’t know about Southern Africans’ culture — and I am being simplistic here — but it is very hard. So this writing and forming of the identity of the continent are really important.


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