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Chale Wote

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Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016, Jamestown (Accra)

What is Chale Wote?

The Chale Wote Street Art Festival is a festival that brings together diverse creative energies from the continent and beyond to Accra during a short period every year. This year’s Chale Wote under the theme “Spirit Robot” was the longest and largest so far with myriad art forms such as paintings, performances (music, physical theatHre, dance etc.), installations, processions, film screenings and panel discussions. The festival week is easily experienced in duality, both in its structure and crowd. The first part of the week (5 days) was the “Labs” and film festival, which attracted and engaged a more academic audience in critical and intellectual discussions on topics such as feminism, racism, intellectual property and spirituality. This section of the festival was organized in other places in Accra other than Jamestown. The latter part (the last two days) was the actual street art festival in Jamestown (a more accessible space both physically and conceptually) attracting a populous and diverse crowd, among whom a dominant proportion seemed more interested in the play elements of festivals (in this case to party and have a good time) and taking selfies. In fact, both crowds seemed satisfied by their engagement with the festival. And that is one of the inspiring and original features of Chale Wote- the (unintentional) marriage of intellectual and popular culture.

Another important characteristic of the festival is community or collectivity. Chale Wote is a term that refers to flip-flops (a pair of shoes that pervades class, ethnic, gender and age barriers and can be found in most Ghanaian homes) and is also a Ga expression for “let’s go friend”. Thus, the festival is a collective affair mobilizing the people of Jamestown, other Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians to Jamestown. Though many of the adults seem to participate in terms of picture documentation and economically (selling things and food at the festival), many children and youth engage in the festival artistically by creating on the streets on their own initiative (e.g. drawing with chalks on the streets and body painting) and even change some of the artwork. Moreover, it is not uncommon to witness artists helping each other or the people of Jamestown helping artists in various ways. Ideas of community enable and shape the festival in significant ways.

In short, Chale Wote is an art festival and a party; a festival of the mass and for the intellectual class; the continuation of traditions and a festival of the present; the spectacle and the mundane; a culture of selfies and a culture of movements of liberation(s); Ghanaian, African and global. The dichotomies are not conflicting but rather the defining essence and uniqueness of Chale Wote.