• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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We are capturing Africa’s essence through visual storytelling – Dikan Center founder

We are capturing Africa’s essence through visual storytelling – Dikan Center founder

Driven by a deep belief in the transformative power of visual education and storytelling, Dikan Center, based in Accra, Ghana, and perhaps the first visual storytelling center in West Africa, seeks to foster creativity, innovation, and leadership among Africa’s young people, empowering them to shape the future of their communities and the continent, the center’s founder cum executive director Paul Ninson tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in this no-holds-barred interview in Accra. Whether as a photographer, artist, storyteller, or simply someone who appreciates the arts he invites all to join hands together to create a vibrant and inclusive space where African visual heritage is preserved, celebrated, and reimagined. Excerpts:

Briefly assess the visual storytelling art form in Ghana and Africa?

The visual storytelling art form in Ghana and Africa is rich, diverse, and vibrant. It encompasses various mediums such as photography, film, painting, sculpture, and digital art. In Ghana, visual storytelling has deep roots in traditional art forms like Adinkra symbols, Kente weaving, and Ananse storytelling. These cultural elements have influenced contemporary visual artists, who use their work to reflect the social and cultural dynamics of the region. In Africa as a whole, visual storytelling serves as a powerful means of expressing identity, preserving heritage, documenting history, and challenging societal norms. It captures the essence of African life, traditions, struggles, and aspirations, offering a window into the multifaceted narratives of the continent. Visual storytelling in Ghana and Africa is continuously evolving and plays a crucial role in shaping and sharing our collective stories.

Is visual storytelling something that can thrive in Ghana?

Yes, visual storytelling can thrive in Ghana. Ghana has a vibrant arts and culture scene, with a growing appreciation for visual arts and creative expressions. The country is home to talented photographers, filmmakers, painters, and other visual artists who are actively contributing to the visual storytelling landscape. Additionally, there is a rich cultural heritage and diverse societal experiences that provide a wealth of inspiration for visual storytellers. With the increasing accessibility of technology and platforms for showcasing and disseminating visual content, there are ample opportunities for visual storytelling to flourish in Ghana. As more support, recognition, and resources are dedicated to the arts, visual storytelling has the potential to thrive and make a significant impact on cultural expression, education, and social change in the country.

Why is visual storytelling important, anyway?

Visual storytelling is important for several reasons. It is a powerful medium for communication and expression. Visual elements such as images, videos, and illustrations have the ability to convey emotions, narratives, and complex ideas in a concise, engaging and impactful manner. Visual stories have the potential to evoke empathy, inspire action, and foster deeper understanding and connection among individuals and communities.
Visual storytelling also plays a crucial role in preserving and documenting history, culture, and heritage. Through visual narratives, important stories, traditions, and experiences can be captured, shared, and passed down to future generations. Visual storytelling helps to ensure that diverse voices and perspectives are represented, allowing for a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of our shared human experiences.

Furthermore, visual storytelling is an effective educational tool. It has the ability to engage and captivate audiences, making learning more engaging and memorable. Visual narratives can simplify complex concepts, making them more accessible and relatable to a wide range of people. Whether it is in the realms of art, science, social issues, or personal stories, visual storytelling has the potential to educate, inform, and inspire.

To this end, visual storytelling has the power to bring about social change and promote dialogue on important issues. Whether by highlighting social injustices, advocating for marginalized communities, or shedding light on pressing global challenges, visual stories have the capacity to raise awareness, challenge perspectives, and mobilize individuals and communities to take action.

Tell us about the Dikan Center. What is it all about? What are your objectives?

The Dikan Center is a vibrant visual education institution located in Accra, Ghana, dedicated to educating the next generation of Africa’s creatives with the skills, mindset and leadership to drive positive change in their communities, countries and the continent, through visual arts.

At the Dikan Center, we offer a range of educational and public programming and resources that foster artistic development and promote cultural understanding. Our facilities include a photography library, studio spaces, classrooms, a gallery, and a state-of-the-art story lab. These spaces serve as platforms for education, exhibitions, research, and the preservation of Africa’s rich visual heritage.

Our objectives revolve around three key pillars:

a. Education: We aim to provide comprehensive visual education to young creatives, equipping them with technical skills, critical thinking abilities, and a deep understanding of African visual traditions. Our visual educational programs – currently photography, filmmaking and creative writing – integrate leadership, ethics, critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship, to prepare the next generation of creative leaders who can address Africa’s challenges and contribute to its growth.

b. Research and Preservation: We are committed to researching, documenting, and preserving Africa’s visual heritage. Through our story lab and archival resources, we delve into narratives, histories, and cultural significances embedded within African visual traditions. We uncover forgotten voices, explore diverse experiences, and generate new knowledge to reimagine the narratives surrounding Africa’s artistic expressions.

c. Innovation and Impact: We foster innovation and experimentation within the realm of visual storytelling. Our story lab serves as a hub for exploring cutting-edge technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and digital archiving. We encourage creatives to push boundaries, experiment with new approaches, and use visual arts as a tool for social impact and positive change.

Kindly tell us the inspiration behind the center?

The inspiration behind the Dikan Center stems from a deep appreciation for Africa’s rich cultural heritage and the recognition of the transformative power of the visual arts. We were inspired by the immense talent and potential of Africa’s young creatives, as well as the need for a dedicated space that nurtures their skills, fosters innovation, and promotes the preservation of our diverse visual traditions.

We believe that visual education is a key driver of social and economic development, and it can empower individuals to become agents of positive change in their communities. By providing access to quality education, resources, and opportunities for collaboration, we aim to unlock the full potential of Africa’s creative talents and harness their abilities to address societal challenges.

Moreover, the inspiration behind the Dikan Center comes from the desire to create a platform where African stories are curated, told, and celebrated. We wanted to establish a space that not only educates but also showcases Africa’s cultural richness and promotes cross-cultural understanding. By embracing the power of visual storytelling, we aim to amplify diverse voices, challenge stereotypes, and contribute to a more inclusive and nuanced narrative about Africa.

How do you assess Ghanaians’ appreciation of the arts?

Ghanaians’ appreciation of the arts has been steadily growing and evolving over the years. There is a rich cultural heritage in Ghana, with a long-standing tradition of artistic expression through various art forms such as music, dance, visual arts, and crafts. The arts hold significant importance in Ghanaian society, as they are deeply intertwined with the country’s cultural identity and collective memory.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the recognition and appreciation of the arts among Ghanaians. This can be attributed to several factors, including the efforts of local artists, cultural organizations, and educational institutions in promoting and showcasing Ghanaian arts and culture. The emergence of art galleries, museums, festivals, and community initiatives has provided platforms for artists to exhibit their works and engage with a wider audience.

Additionally, the growing accessibility of art through digital platforms and social media has contributed to the dissemination and appreciation of Ghanaian art both locally and internationally. Artists are using these platforms to showcase their creativity, connect with art enthusiasts, and raise awareness about social and cultural issues.
Moreover, the increasing support and recognition from the government and private sector have played a significant role in fostering the appreciation of the arts in Ghana. Efforts to incorporate arts education in schools, funding for arts initiatives, and the establishment of cultural institutions have all contributed to the growth of the artistic ecosystem in the country.

However, it is important to note that challenges still exist, such as limited funding opportunities, infrastructure gaps, and the need for further integration of arts education into the curriculum. Nonetheless, my overall assessment of Ghanaians’ appreciation of the arts is positive.

What specific projects does the center intend to roll out towards the achievement of its objective(s)?

The Dikan Center has several projects in the pipeline that align with its objectives of promoting visual education, fostering creativity and innovation, and preserving Africa’s visual heritage. Some of the specific projects the center intends to roll out include:

a. Educational Programs: The center has developed, and aims to implement comprehensive educational programs that provide training, workshops, and courses in photography, filmmaking, creative writing, and related visual storytelling disciplines. These programs will equip aspiring creatives with the skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities necessary to address Africa’s challenges through creative solutions.

b. Research and Documentation: The center’s story lab will serve as a hub for research and documentation, focusing on Africa’s visual heritage. This includes conducting archival research, collecting oral histories, and analyzing visual artifacts to generate new knowledge and reimagine narratives surrounding Africa’s artistic expressions.

c. Exhibitions and Events: The center is curating and hosting exhibitions, showcasing the works of emerging and established artists from Africa and beyond. These exhibitions will provide platforms for artists to share their perspectives, engage with diverse audiences, and promote dialogue around social, cultural, and environmental issues.

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d. Community Outreach: The center intends to actively engage with local communities through outreach programs. This will involve organizing workshops, mentorship programs, and collaborative projects that empower community members, particularly youth, to explore their creative potential and contribute to positive change in their communities.

e. Innovation and Technology: The center recognizes the importance of embracing innovative technologies in visual storytelling. It plans to integrate cutting-edge tools and approaches such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), into its projects and programs, offering new and immersive experiences for audiences.

f. Collaboration and Partnerships: The center aims to foster collaborations and partnerships with local and international organizations, institutions, and artists. By forging meaningful connections, we seek to create a network that amplifies its impact and facilitates knowledge exchange, resource sharing, and the development of collaborative projects.

How do you finance operations at the center?

The Dikan Center is a non-profit organization registered under Section 18 of the Companies Act, 2019 (Act 992) of the Republic of Ghana. As a not-for-profit institution, the center’s funding sources include, one, grants and donations: The center actively seeks grants from foundations, organizations, and government agencies that support the arts, education, cultural preservation, and community development. Donations from individuals, philanthropists, and corporate entities who align with the center’s mission and objectives also contribute to its financial sustainability; and, two, through sponsorships and partnerships: The center forms strategic partnerships with businesses, corporations, and brands that share its vision and values. These partnerships may involve financial contributions, in-kind support, or collaborative projects that benefit both parties and advance the center’s mission.
It is through a combination of these funding sources that the Dikan Center finances its operations, allowing it to provide educational programs, exhibitions, research facilities, and community initiatives. The center continuously seeks diverse funding opportunities to ensure its long-term sustainability and the fulfillment of its mission.

What would you say are your major achievements so far?

The Dikan Center has achieved several significant milestones since its establishment. Some of our major achievements include the establishment of a Vibrant Educational Institution: The center has successfully established itself as a leading visual education institution in Ghana. We have created a dynamic and supportive environment where Africa’s young people are educated and inspired to create and innovate; two, preservation and conservation of Africa’s Visual Heritage: Through our research and initiatives, we have made significant contributions to the preservation and conservation of Africa’s rich visual heritage. Our story lab serves as a hub for research, innovative exploration, and the generation of new knowledge surrounding Africa’s artistic expressions; three, engaging exhibitions and public programming: We have curated and hosted engaging exhibitions that showcase the diverse visual traditions and stories of Africa. These exhibitions, along with our public programming, including community outreach events and networking activities, provide opportunities for the public to engage with the visual and creative arts and promote social impact through the power of creativity and innovation; four, expansion of facilities: Since our opening, we have expanded our facilities to include a gallery, a story lab, a studio, classrooms, and Africa’s largest Photo Library. These spaces provide creatives, researchers, and students with the necessary resources and tools to enhance their learning and creative processes; and, five, recognition and support: We have gained recognition and support from various stakeholders, including artists, photographers, educational institutions, and the local community. This support has allowed us to further our mission and expand our reach in promoting visual education and leadership in Africa.

These achievements reflect the dedication, hard work, and passion of the Dikan Center team and our commitment to making a positive impact on Africa’s creative landscape. We continue to strive for excellence and look forward to achieving even greater milestones in the future.

What are your major challenges?

While the Dikan Center has made significant strides, we also face certain challenges in our pursuit of our objectives. Some of our major challenges include, first, access to resources: Accessing resources, such as cutting-edge technology, equipment, and materials, can be a challenge, particularly in a resource-constrained environment. We strive to provide our students and creatives with the necessary tools and resources to enhance their learning and creative processes, but this requires ongoing investment and support; second, building awareness and audience engagement: Encouraging broader public engagement and appreciation for the arts, as well as attracting diverse audiences, can be a challenge. We work diligently to raise awareness about the importance of visual storytelling and promote the value of creative expression. Developing strategies to reach wider audiences and fostering a culture of art appreciation requires ongoing effort and collaboration; third, infrastructure and expansion: As the demand for our programs and services grows, expanding our infrastructure to accommodate more participants and enhance our facilities becomes a challenge. Balancing the need for expansion with available resources and maintaining a conducive environment for learning and creativity is a continuous endeavor.
Despite these challenges, we are committed to finding innovative solutions, forging partnerships, and leveraging the support of our community and stakeholders to overcome obstacles and continue advancing our mission of visual education and leadership in Africa.

Kindly tell us about yourself?

I’m Paul Ninson. I’m a photographer, curator and visual storyteller. I studied Industrial Art at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. To further enhance my skills, I pursued Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism at the School of the International Center of Photography in New York. During my time there, I was fortunate to receive the Director’s Fellowship and the George Moss Merit Scholarship, which helped shape my approach to visual storytelling.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working on personal projects such as Umoja Woman – Village with No Men, Culture According to Africans, WWII Veterans, and Where Education is Free. These projects have been recognized for their powerful narratives and their ability to inspire and educate people around the world. Additionally, I’ve curated exhibitions both locally and internationally, bringing diverse voices and perspectives to the forefront.

Before establishing the Dikan Center, I gained valuable experience working with global companies such as BBDO, AstraZeneca, Vivo Energy, Adjaye Associates, and Humans of New York. These experiences provided me with valuable insights into different aspects of the creative industry and helped shape my vision for the center.
As the founder and executive director, I’m privileged to lead the Dikan Center and witness the incredible talent and potential that emerges from our educational programs. It’s an exciting journey, and I’m grateful to be part of a team that shares a passion for nurturing creativity and innovation in Africa.

Do you have any final words?

In closing, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to share the story and vision of the Dikan Center. Our journey is driven by a deep belief in the transformative power of visual education and storytelling. We are dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and leadership among Africa’s young people, empowering them to shape the future of their communities and the continent.

I invite everyone to join us on this exciting journey. Whether you are a photographer, artist, storyteller, or simply someone who appreciates the arts, there are countless ways to get involved and support our mission. Together, we can create a vibrant and inclusive space where African visual heritage is preserved, celebrated, and reimagined.
Thank you for your interest in the Dikan Center and for being part of our shared vision for a thriving creative Africa. We look forward to the future with great anticipation and the hope of making a lasting impact through the power of visual education and storytelling. If you have any further questions or would like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.