Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, Mphil in African Languages and Cultures, has mainly worked as a writer and art historian. She first conceived the idea of creating a comprehensive archive of African art and culture in 2009, when she was working towards a PhD.
“I would go to the underground library vaults, and I would find theses that were so brilliant and interesting, and yet no one was looking at it and it is so valuable… I was thinking that the narrative that is told about Africa is still the backward narrative: no innovation, it’s a historical and stuck. Yet with everything I was reading, it was stories of innovation, of knowledge, of technology,” she said. Her “Cultural Encyclopedia Project,” chronicles art from every African country, which is the reason behind its division into 54 volumes.
The project received in 2015 a $40,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Museum. This institution saw in the Encyclopedia an important step in the preservation of African artistry, cultural knowledge and history. Oforiatta-Ayim put together a “dream team” of Ghanaian artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers and photographers, among others, to curate and edit the encyclopedia’s first volume, which is dedicated to that country.
She estimates each country will take around two years to complete, and made up a plan for the creation of the other volumes, based on the expertise she gathered with the first one. The historian plans to accompany the online books with other cultural experiences, such as art exhibitions and conferences.
This groundbreaking project appropriates African history and culture for the continent and the world. Sir David Adjaye, who is Washington DC’s National Museum of African American History and Culture building architect, expressed that for example “East Africans don’t know about West Africans’ culture, and West Africans don’t know about North Africans’ culture, and North Africans don’t know about Southern Africans’ culture — and I am being simplistic here — but it is very hard. So this writing and forming of identity of the continent is really important.”