Ghanaian photographer Gerald Annan-Forson at Howard University

A major retrospective of groundbreaking Ghanaian photographer Gerald Annan-Forson opens February 1, 2024, at the Howard University Museum sponsored by the University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) and the Fine Arts Gallery. The exhibition bringing together the artist’s body of work for the first time in the United States.

The images taken together reveal the political upheavals and social transformations of Accra, Ghana during the last decades of the twentieth century. Forson’s work is a unique narrative of the spectacular story of African social change through both the candid eyes of major players as well as everyday people, capturing unexpected moments of contemplation, veiled frustration, and quiet joy.

“Revolution and Image-making in Postcolonial Ghana (1979–1985)” is on view through May 3, 2024, and is curated by artist and ethnographer Jesse Weaver Shipley, Professor of African and African American Studies and Oratory at Dartmouth College.

Originally conceived at the Sharjah Art Foundation in the UAE in collaboration with The Africa Institute, this exhibition is part of a global movement to reconsider the significance of African photographers in shaping contemporary aesthetics.

Photography has been crucial to postcolonial social transformations across the Global South,” curator Jesse Weaver Shipley said. “As independence movements, uprisings and revolutions spread across the decolonizing world in the mid-twentieth century, photographers provided the lenses through which the world interpreted radical events. Gerald Annan-Forson images of decolonizing life disrupt stereotypic visual representations, reframing African events, landscapes, and people within unique and dynamic stories. Annan-Forson’s work portrays a playful yet deceptively radical aesthetic linking urban life and popular styles to political agency and change.”

MSRC, Howard University’s research facility and repository of archive material on the global Black experience, holds archival material of major figures in politics, arts, and activism, including of former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah who led the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Annan-Forson’s photographs tell a visual story of postcolonial Africa, narrating a pictorial history of both violence and aspiration and illustrating his own long-term commitment to documenting the evolving urban landscape. Known for his distinctive style of composition, playful focus, use of formal repetitions and character representations, the artist is recognized for reshaping understanding of photography as a tool of radical yet subtle image-making.

Revealing the contradictions that emerge in moments of social transformation, Annan-Forson’s work centers quirky figures and offbeat moments, disrupting viewer expectations and revealing another side of power. 

Visiting the Exhibition

After a successful run at the Sharjah Art Foundation “Gerald Annan-Forson: Revolution and Image-making in Postcolonial Ghana (1979-1985)” is shown here as a cohesive body of work for the first time in the U.S. The exhibition will be on view at the Howard University Museum located in Founders Library at Howard University campus.

About the Artist 

Gerald Annan-Forson is a photographer whose work explodes the simplistic facades of belonging, identity, and normalcy in the Ghanaian capital Accra. Focusing on subjects around the postcolonial African city, his images push the boundaries of documentary photography by focusing on unexpected moments that disturb the expectations of public life.

Annan-Forson taught photography at National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), and other institutions in Accra for over 20 years. He was a founding member of the Ghana Union of Professional Photographers (GUPP). His work on Ghana’s 1979 transition to democracy was shown at the Ghana Arts Council, Accra (1980). He also organized and curated a major photographic exhibition at Ghana International Trade Fair (1990).

After retiring from teaching and official state work, he continues to work from his studio in Cantonments, Accra.

Annan-Forson became a freelance photographer in the mid-1970s. He was thrown into the turmoil of political change after a military coup d’état made his school-mate Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings Chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council on 4 June 1979. He captured sensibility of the era and had unique access to the many public and private faces of Rawlings who led Ghana as both radical military leader and later democratically elected president.

Over 30 years, Annan-Forson maintained intimate access to key events in Ghana. Born in 1947 in London, Annan-Forson currently lives and works in Accra.

About Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) is the largest and most comprehensive repository of books, documents, and ephemera on the global Black experience, including the personal and official papers of Kwame Nkrumah, Paul Robeson, Alain Locke, Mary Frances Berry, Dr. Benjamin Mays, Vernon Jordon, and Amiri Baraka, to name but a few from its over seven hundred collections.

It was founded in 1914 as the Moorland Library and became a research center within Howard University in 1973, consisting of the University Archives Division, the Manuscripts Division, Library, Museum, and the Black Press Archive.

MSRC’s mission is to provide access to history through diverse formats and to preserve it for generations to come.

About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.

The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States.

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