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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2014

Rhoda Woets
Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam


The formative influence of colonial art education on modern art movements in Africa has not attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. Yet, European art teachers in the Gold Coast challenged colonial prejudice that Africans were incapable of mastering European aesthetic forms. This article analyses the art education provided at the Teacher Training College at Achimota School where pupils learned both to revalue African art forms and to draw and paint in European, representational art styles. Modern artists built on and reshaped what they had learned at Achimota in order to respond to changing social and political conditions. The last section of this article explores the impact of colonial art education on the work of two of the earliest modern artists in Ghana: Kofi Antubam and Vincent Kofi.

Education, Culture, and Social Change
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 R. Woets, ‘“What is this?” framing Ghanaian art from the colonial encounter to the present’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2011), 56.

2 Okeke, C., ‘Modern African art’, in Enwezor, O. (ed.), The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 (Munich, 1999), 38Google Scholar.

3 N. O. Quao, ‘Some Ghanaian contemporary artists’ (unpublished BA thesis, University of Science and Technology Kumasi, 1969–70), 5; Verrips, J., ‘Ghanaian canoe decorations’, MAST, 1:1 (2002), 60Google Scholar.

4 See Ogbechie, S., ‘The 30s in Lagos, Nigeria’, in Fall, N. and Pivin, J. L. (eds.) Anthology of African Art: The Twentieth Century (New York, 2002), 168–74Google Scholar.

5 An example of an excellent study is E. Harney's In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960–1995 (Durham, 2004).

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7 Asihene, E. V., ‘Painting in Ghana’, Cultural Heritage (Accra, 1968), 17Google Scholar.

8 The art teachers at Achimota spoke about local art forms in terms of ‘African art’, ‘primitive art’, ‘Negro art’, ‘indigenous art’, ‘art of the villages’, or simply, ‘crafts’.

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16 Woets, ‘What’, 138.

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28 Report on Achimota College, 1933–1934 (Accra, 1934), 40.

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34 Coe, ‘Educating’, 40. African drumming and dancing, for example, continues to be performed during school competitions.

35 Woets, ‘What’, 132.

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38 Stevens, ‘The future’, 150.

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40 Quao, ‘Some’, 13.

41 Stevens, G. A., Exhibition of Drawings by Modern Gold Coast African Artists: An Introduction (London, 1929), 14Google Scholar. The art teachers at Achimota mostly spoke of their students as ‘boys’ and ‘men’ because the number of female students was relatively small despite the fact that mixed education was one of Achimota's pillars. See Coe ‘Educating’, 38.

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52 Meyerowitz, ‘The teaching’, 38.

53 Oguibe, ‘Reverse’, 41.

54 Stevens, ‘Go Suku’, 334–6.

55 Ibid. 334.


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57 Artist and teacher Margaret Trowell, founder of the Makerere College School of Art in Uganda, who had been a student of Marion Richardson, was clearly influenced by her narrative approach to painting and her belief in the value of the imagination. See Picton, J., ‘Reality and imagination: an introduction to visual practice in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia’, in Picton, J., Loder, R., and Court, E. (eds.), Action and Vision: Painting and Sculpture in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda from 1980 (London, 1980), 11Google Scholar.

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60 Stevens, ‘Educational’, 17.

61 Probst makes a similar argument in relation to the reconstruction of the Osun grove by Susanne Wenger. See Probst, P., The Art of Heritage in a Yoruba City, unpublished version (2011), 83Google Scholar. Later published under the title Osogbo and the Art of Heritage: Monuments, Deities, and Money (Bloomington, IN, 2011).

62 Pippet, ‘Teaching’, 20.

63 Ibid.


64 Ibid.


65 Pippet, G., ‘The college classes: including teacher training’, Report on Achimota College for the Year 1933 (Accra, 1934), 19Google Scholar.

66 Pippet, G., ‘Art’, Report on Achimota College for the Year 1931 (Accra, 1931), 29Google Scholar.

67 Pippet, ‘Teaching’, 21.

68 Pippet, ‘The College’, 17.

69 Ibid. 18.


70 Cardew, M., A Pioneer Potter: An Autobiography (Oxford, 1989), 124Google Scholar.

71 Ibid. 125.


72 Ibid.


73 Ibid.


74 Meyerowitz, H. V., ‘Arts and Crafts’, Achimota Review, 1937 (1938), 8Google Scholar.

75 Interview with gallery owner Frances Ademola, Accra, 6 June 2008.

76 Meyerowitz, ‘The teaching’, 39.

77 Quao, ‘Some’, 18.

78 Cardew, A Pioneer, 161.

79 Cardew, M. in Wilett, F. (ed.), ‘Kenneth Murray: through the eyes of his friends’, African Arts, 6:4 (1973), 74Google Scholar.

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85 One of Achimota's most illustrious teachers was Ephraim Amu, who taught African music at the Achimota School and Training College from 1934 to 1937 and again from 1941 until 1952. The issue of how African music and dance should be taught at Achimota was the subject of debate. Amu transgressed rather rigid boundaries by practicing ‘African customs’ outside of times and places specifically set aside for the expression of African culture. Professor Kodjo Senah, sociologist at the University of Legon, told the author in April 2010 that Amu persistently drank from calabashes instead of cups, and that he refused to wear European suits on occasions when he was expected to leave his African cloth and sandals at home. However, some students at Achimota complained about Amu's African music lessons. From their perspective, they were forced to learn drumming and African music instead of studying Bach or Chopin. See Agyemang, F. M., Amu the African: A Study in Vision and Courage (Accra, 1988)Google Scholar.

86 Wallbank, ‘Achimota’, 245.

87 Cardew, A Pioneer, 125.

88 In 1961, the College became the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). See Kwami, Kumasi, 73.

89 Mount, M. W., African Art: The Years since 1920 (Bloomington, IN, 1973), 127Google Scholar.

90 Personal conversation with artist Atta Kwami, 17 May 2013.

91 Kwami, Kumasi, 73.

92 k. seid'ou[sic], ‘Theoretical foundations of the KNUST painting program: a philosophical inquiry and its contextual relevance in Ghanaian culture’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, 2006), 134.

93 Ibid. 133.


94 See the webpage of the Integrated Rural Art and Industry Department, (, accessed Sept. 2013.

95 Woets, ‘What’, 132.

96 Bedu-Addo, A., ‘Kofi Antubam: his life and work’, Sankofa Arts and Culture Magazine, 1 (1977), 16Google Scholar.

97 Mount, African, 125.

98 Antubam, Ghana's, 130–1.

99 Interview with Seth Dei, Accra, 4 Mar. 2008.

100 C. Lentz, ‘Travelling emblems of power: the Ghanaian “seat of state”’, unpublished working paper, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, 94 (2008), 4.

101 Fosu, K., 20th Century Art of Africa (rev. edn, Accra, 1993), 1617Google Scholar.

102 Woets, ‘What’, 152–3.

103 This sentence translates as ‘Painting is strictly European and therefore anti-African’ (translation by author). K. Antubam, ‘La peinture en Afrique noire’, Présence Africaine, 27–8 (1959), 278.

104 Mitchell, L. E., ‘An interview with Vincent Kofi’, Image: Journal of the College of Art, 1:1 (1970), 38Google Scholar.

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106 Grobel, L., ‘Vincent Kofi’, African Arts, 8:3 (1975), 8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

107 The physician and well-known sculptor Oku Ampofo discovered African sculptures in Western European museums when he studied medicine in Edinburgh. In 1949, Ampofo wrote in the journal for the West African Society: ‘I found in these ancient masterpieces the emotional appeal and satisfaction which western education had failed to cultivate in me. It was as though an African had to go all the way to Europe to discover himself!’ See Mount, African, 173.

108 Errington, S., ‘What became authentic primitive art?’, Cultural Anthropology, 9:2 (1994), 201–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

109 Gikandi, S., ‘Picasso, Africa, and the Schemata of Difference’, Modernism/modernity, 10:3 (2003), 455–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

110 Stevens, ‘Educational’, 14.

111 Ibid. 17; Stevens, ‘Go Suku’, 335.


112 Hassan, S. M., ‘African modernism: beyond alternative modernities discourse’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 109:3 (2010), 457CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

113 Gikandi, ‘Picasso’, 458.

114 Okeke, ‘Modern’, 29.

115 See, for example, B. K. Dogbe, ‘A historical perspective of the visual arts as a tool for forging national identity and promotion of development’ (unpublished paper, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, 2007), 2.

116 Nkrumah, K., Africa Must Unite (London, 1963), 49Google Scholar.

117 Birgit Meyer makes this argument in relation to religion: Meyer, B., ‘Christianity in Africa: from African independent to Pentecostal-Charismatic churches’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 33 (2004), 462CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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