fbpx Rita Mawuena Benissan | CIRCA PRIZE 2023

Rita Mawuena Benissan

My artistic career has encompassed numerous mediums, including textiles, photography, painting, sculpture, and installation. Earlier in my career, I explored my mediums through the lens of the black narrative and black aesthetic; I have since researched the aesthetics of my identity as a Ghanaian-American. With my identity, I conveyed my personal aesthetic through the object of the Royal Umbrella, which is utilised in chieftaincy in Ghana and many parts of West Africa. The umbrellas are used to shield and provide shade for the King, the Chiefs, and the Queen mother. I am reinterpreting this protective artefact as a symbol of Ghanaian identity. By the making and design of the umbrella, I’m creating the embodiment of the beauty and strength of individuals and communities. When it comes to my approach, reexamining history is a key component, but in my both artistic and research-based practice. I’ve been able to construct a cross-disciplinary approach in which I’m redesigning royal umbrellas in conjunction with traditional umbrella markers, while also creating an archive based on my Si hene Foundation’s research of Ghanaian chieftaincy through visualisations. I want us to recognize and appreciate the significance of design and visual language in establishing our identity and culture. And analyse how we may preserve it for future generations to enjoy the significance and stories linked with these features. I hope that each viewer will feel as if they are Kings and Queens.

A Maker’s Hope beautifully weaves together the concept of hope and its connection to the royal umbrella and chieftaincy in Ghana. It highlights how the royal umbrella becomes a symbol of hope, representing resilience, inspiration, and unity. The artistry and craftsmanship of the royal umbrella makers are portrayed as vehicles through which hope is created. The umbrellas, meticulously woven with vibrant colours and intricate patterns, serve as vessels that carry the aspirations and dreams of the people. The chieftains, as custodians of tradition and culture, play a significant role in fostering hope. They embrace their people’s dreams, seeking to uplift and guide them towards brighter futures. It serves as a catalyst for change, inspiring us to preserve our heritage while fostering a sense of hope for the future, where our cultural traditions can thrive and continue to inspire generations to come.

I would develop The People and their Umbrella, an anthology film and photo series that could lead to a publication that explores the personal narratives and cultural significance of umbrellas in Ghana. This project aims to celebrate diversity, highlight interconnected stories, and delve into how umbrellas become symbols of identity, heritage, and aspirations. By featuring heartfelt narratives, the project will go beyond the surface-level understanding of umbrellas as objects of regality, showcasing how they shape the lives of everyday people and reflect their cultural heritage. It will emphasise the connections between people and chieftaincy, showcasing how umbrellas are woven into the fabric of Ghanaian society. Through visual storytelling, The People and their Umbrella will foster empathy, appreciation, and a sense of shared humanity. It will challenge preconceptions, inviting viewers to reflect on the significance of cultural heritage and its impact on individual lives.

To me, hope represents the boundless possibilities and aspirations for the future. Personally, it represents my firm conviction in the transforming power of narrative, cultural celebration, and community engagement.