Q&A with Richmond Orlando Mensah

The Manju Journal founder showcases Ghana's globe shaping creative scene in new book VOICES

This week we commemorate the two year anniversary of the passing of one of Ghana's most esteemed diasporic sons Virgil Abloh. So it feels fitting to be sharing our recent conversation with Accra native and Manju Journal founder Richmond Orlando Mensah in celebration of his new book VOICES. Since 2015 Manju Journal has been sharing Ghana's effervescent and vibrant creative scene with the wider world. Attracting global attention and collaborations with huge fashion institutions including Burberry and Gucci along the way. Recent years have seen an explosion of creativity inspired by the continent. Our charts flood with the sounds of Afrobeats, movie buffs flock to cinemas for blockbusters like Black Panther and The Woman King and our catwalks are graced with gender subverting looks that can be traced back to traditional African attire from a range of nations. It is impossible to celebrate the proliferation of African representation in the arts, without recognising Ghana as a nucleus. The nation's reputation as a cultural mecca has been evidenced by an array of African American celebrities venturing there in pursuit of a connection with their ancestry. From Chance The Rapper, to Dave Chapelle and Kendrick Lamar journeying to the land of the Black star has become a spiritual awakening for Black Americans whose history was forcibly taken from them. It should be no surprise that Ghana be a conduit to proud African identity, given how many moments they have given us that have connected Black people globally. I still look back in despair to Asamoah Gyan's penalty miss against Uruguay which saw the end of their 2010 World Cup run where it felt like every Black person in the world was willing Ghana to become the first sub-Saharan African nation to reach the World Cup's semi finals. In the arts their impressive over-representation of seminal figures includes: Campbell Addy, Clara Amfo, Stormzy, Kusi Kubi (PALMWINE IceCREAM and now Manju's Fashion Director) the iconic James Barnor just to name a few who have personally inspired me. The full list is longer and probably impossible to fully compile. But through the beautiful new book VOICES Mensah's curation gives us the opportunity to see it through a native's eyes. We spoke to him about what readers can look forward to.

Fruits are for boys by Nana Yaw Oduro

For our readers who don't know you, what was your entry point into the visual arts?

I graduated from the University of Ghana with a Bachelor’s Degree in French and Linguisticsin 2018 and have worked with some diplomatic centers in Ghana and Africa as a Project Coordinator (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, German-Ghana Chamber of Commerce etc). I was not born into an artistic home but my interest in art grew alongside my strong fascination with the creativity I saw around me especially from friends and colleagues who went beyond every means to make creativity look ‘cool’ in Accra whether in fashion, visual storytelling, art, music and design which led me to launch Manju Journal in 2015

Memory In A Digital Age from From MANJU Journal x SHOWstudio’s Bodies of Knowledge by Yannis Davy Guibinga

Can you tell us a little about the start of Manju Journal and its primary aims?

Manju Journal was launched in 2015 to celebrate the creativity coming out of Ghana, Africa and the global diaspora at large. The initial idea was to explore the works of emerging talents on the continent ranging from photographers, designers, visual storytellers and artists. We have grown from an online platform to a creative studio (launched in 2021) where we collaborate with progressive global brands and institutions who are interested in investing in black & African visual culture & creatives leading us to working with luxury and heritage brands like Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci. Kusi Kubi who works between London & Accra as a stylist &
creative director joined Manju in 2020 to take the role as a fashion director. As we are both Ghanaians working together, it is amazing to see our ideas come together beautifully to create meaningful and strategic projects for the platform. We are not tied to a particular industry or discipline, but instead, champion creatives ranging from the continent’s brightest designers, artists, photographers and storytellers. What links the work we curate and commission together is an interest in African visual culture and narratives and presentations of those of African ancestry. The goal for MANJU Journal is to ensure that the plethora of rich art forms and other creative disciplines coming out of Africa are given the spotlight they deserve.

We are all they by MANJU & Gucci

Ghana has become a cultural mecca for a lot of diasporic Africans and African Americans. What is it about the country that makes it shine so brightly on the world stage?

I may be biased as I'm based in Accra, but I genuinely feel that the Ghanaian art scene is one of Africa's most vibrant and preeminent. It is really amazing how much Ghanaian art and how many Ghanaian artists are being represented and exhibited around the world right now. We are fundamentally a very creative and expressive culture. That's been the case for hundreds of years, now it's just most obvious in terms of the contemporary art world. Also, it’s very evident, in the works of artists like Zohra Opoku, Serge Attukwei Clottey, James Barnor, Campbell Addy as well as designers like Christie Brown, Studio 189 and institutions like Nubuke Foundation, SCCA Tamale all supporting homegrown talents and sharing authentic stories about Ghana and the continent.

Clementine by Sarfo Emmnauel Annor

Do you imagine that native Ghanaians will process the book's contents differently to external readers?

Not at all. Though VOICES specifically celebrates Ghanaian talents and creatives in the country and around the world, this book is for everyone most especially those interested in exploring contemporary African arts.

Are there any Ghanaian visual artists or designers who may have missed out on being in VOICES, but are still worth checking out?
There were so many artists and institutions who we could include and so we invite readers to research and delve further into Ghana’s creative community.

Grab your copy of VOICES here

Follow Manju Journal here

Photography by  Nana Yaw OduroYannis Davy Guibinga &  Sarfo Emmnauel Annor

Article by Martyn Ewoma


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