Again and again, people are stigmatised and marginalised by communities for a supposed common good. Taking the isolated northern regions in Ghana as an example, this exhibition focuses on the belief in witchcraft, which makes scapegoats primarily of women. Such beliefs exist in many regions of the world and are by no means limited to rural or educationally disadvantaged circles. Today witch hunts are still taking place in more than 40 countries.
On a journey they took together through Ghana to Burkina Faso in 2005, the artists Ann-Christine Woehrl and Senam Okudzeto concentrated on the issue of contemporary witch hunts.
Witches in Exile focuses on women who were accused of witchcraft. Envy and resentment, as well as the accusation of having caused diseases, deaths, droughts and other catastrophes, resulted in ostracism and made these women outsiders. Often in danger of their lives, they were exiled to so-called ‘witch camps’. These villages, of which there are eight in Ghana today, are located in very remote areas, far from the capital Accra. For this reason, few people in Ghana at the time were aware of their existence.
Ann-Christine Woehrl shows these women in a haunting portrait series in all of their dignity and vulnerability – and in all of their pride. The broader context of the ‘witch camps’ and the portraits is illustrated by Senam Okudzeto in a multimedia installation – consisting of photographs from Ann-Christine Woehrl’s extended archive as well as her own photographs, drawings and paintings that were made especially for this exhibition. Senam Okudzeto portrays their journey through Ghana to the Northern Region, where she and Ann-Christine Woehrl visited two very different villages – Kukuo and Gambaga.
Okudzeto and Woehrl’s work illustrates the social and economic disparity that existed at the time between the northern areas cut off by the Volta Reservoir and the rapidly developing centre of Ghana and is coastal regions with its capital, Accra. The idea is to place the series of portraits, which were taken between 2009 and 2013 in the villages of Gambaga and Gushiegu, in a more complex geographical, temporal, social, political, religious and economic context.
The Five Continents Museum’s decision to show Witches in Exile at this time was based on the current political brisance of the topic in Ghana, the critical discourse in the country about witch hunts and the closure of the ‘witch camps’. Ghanaian historian Gertrude Nkrumah addresses the socio-political questions arising from the current debate.
Senam Okudzeto is a British postnational artist of U.S. and Ghanaian origin. She lives and works in Basel. Having lived in the U.S., UK, Europe and West Africa from a young age, she is both an insider and outsider in many different cultures. Acting as it were as a translator of cultural experiences, she incorporates West African, U.S. and European perspectives in her work. Okudzeto holds a PhD in Cultural Studies (London Consortium, Birkbeck College) and studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, the Royal College of Art London and as a participant in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (ISP).
Ann-Christine Woehrl, a German-French photographer, has been documenting the lives of women who are cast out to the margins of society since completing her studies in Paris (her projects have included In/visible and Peace is named after a woman.) Witches in Exile has already been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the International Festival of Photography in Belo Horizonte (Brazil) and the Angkor Photo Festival (Cambodia). Witches in Exile was created in cooperation with Simon Ngota, the founder of the Ghanaian NGO Witch-hunt Victims Empowerment Project (further information at www.witches-in-exile.art).
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