Once colonised by the French, British, and Germans in a European power landgrab that didn’t end until well into the 20th Century, the African nation of Togo now enjoys complete cultural and bureaucratic independence. The first time I’d ever heard of this fascinating county was when I began collecting stamps as a child. The stamps of Togo always appealed to me as interesting and worth a closer look. However, the nation itself is moving away from its westernised appeal and has embraced their own long-lived cultural backstory. Last year saw a grand opening of a cultural centre that once housed foreign governors in all their forcibly imported style.
According to Art News, “they might have found it a nightmare”, as the building is now completely turned around to represent the very culture and set of ideas that the invaders sought to morally overwrite. Indeed, for the main body of people at home, consenting to sending our sons to fight far away, we needed to know we were doing the right thing. So, they sold it as just that to everyone at home and in the country they stole. The comparison of lifestyles and cultural motivations gave rise to the real desire to correct what was introduced as wrong behaviour. Was it any of our business what the people in Togo were doing? I don’t think so. Did they ask for our help? I don’t think so either.
Interesting book: Locality, Mobility, and "Nation": Periurban Colonialism in Togo's Eweland, 1900-1960 (Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora)
The decision to regenerate the space in the image of the culture it was built to oppress was a noble one and the community can now enjoy the benefits of the genuine installation. Now a cultural space and art gallery, the Palais de Lomé is the nation’s first such dedicated space and will serve the community and genuine tourists for many generations to come. Built to last, and empty of its colonial past, the Togolese have their own spotlight and reservoir of protected heritage right on their doorstep.
Currently exhibiting a local high-rising artist, the entire ground floor section is temporarily dedicated to the work of Kossi Aguessy. The Lomé resident had cultural roots in Togo as well as in Benin and Brazil. This modern representation of human life surely resonates in his work, with his influences stretching beyond borders and beyond heroes. Since his death in 2017 aged just 40, the Togolese have endeavoured to display his opus in their home nation, and this has become their perfect opportunity. Aguessy’s works can also be found displayed in various global venues of high reputation including the Museum of Modern Art to the Centre Pompidou.
Opened in 2019, the renovated Palais de Lomé gained public interest at the time with a Togolese exhibition that breathed new life into the old and historical building. Now that the pandemic has passed and the world is opening up to tourism and trips, the exhibition centre is banging their drum loudly to remind us all to pay attention to their marvellous museum. The immediate grounds are in fact overflowing with display material. A modern touch extends outward with photography and film exhibits plus workshops spanning across local communities. This helps to emphasise the idea that the regenerated space is for the people at home and not those abroad. Visitors are welcome, and there is probably a gift shop, but it’s the community who benefits in the long run no matter what.
All the texts on display are written in the three main languages of the country. English, French, and the local language Ewe all feature in order to unify the speakers and draw everyone in equally. Because Ewe is not a common language in the world, by using it to communicate to a mass audience in this way, the centre is helping to solidify the language for the future. The local setting truly makes its mark on the whole picture being painted by the exhibition centre. Modern and traditional methods feature everywhere with displays made from woodwork, metalwork, pottery, painting, textile as well as photography, video, and more. A massive collection of varied media is what a culture needs to communicate its soul to the outside world and with a growing ocean of opportunity to become part of the story, Togo stands to ring in the new year and beyond with a proud and preserved national heritage.
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