Nana Oforiatta-Ayim Unifying African Cultures with The Cultural Encyclopedia


There is a new project that will map and archive both historical and contemporary arts and culture across the African continent – the Cultural Encyclopedia. Created by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, the Encyclopedia will be the first of its kind, unravelling the beauties of the diverse African cultures and their histories.

Nana Oforiatta-Ayim is a Ghanaian writer, filmmaker and art historian, who has been working on this venture for three years ever since she first conceptualised it in 2009. The idea came about during her Ph.D. studies when she did research on African languages and cultures at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She explains that she would go to the underground library vaults and find intriguing theses which were so valuable yet stored and forgotten. A recollection she had was the theses based on the technology of kente cloth. Ms. Oforiatta-Ayim realised that these stories of innovation that took place in Africa were never told. This is when she saw the need to become the story teller of both historical and contemporary arts and culture across Africa through the Cultural Encyclopedia.

The Cultural Encyclopedia will be online, including an open-source platform for documenting past, present and future African arts and culture and will eventually be published in 54 volumes, for each country. Starting in Ghana, various art will be captured. The aim of the Cultural encyclopedia is to change perceptions of the continent and help alleviate the frustration of African cultural producers concerned that their rich histories have been lost or forgotten over the decades because they lack good archives.

A writer and poet who is editing the literature section of the Ghana volume, Nana Boateng, struggled to find Ghanian poetry on the internet which emphasised the lack of exposure the poets and artists received despite the superior quality of their work. Nana Boateng stated, “To have an encyclopedia that will be a reference point for generations is exciting. We are giving ourselves the opportunity to learn from what has already happened and build on it.”

The Cultural Encyclopedia project also has physical exhibitions like the one that took place I central Accra, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. The exhibition included historical photographs of the country’s formation and videos and objects that were previously collected in Accra. Nana Oforiatta-Ayim refers to the Cultural Encyclopedia as the moving museum due to these physical exhibitions.

David Adjaye, a British-Ghanaian architect who designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washignton, and a wrote a book about his experiences travelling throughout Africa raised a valid point, saying, “because actually 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.”

Through the Cultural Encyclopedia, Africans will be able to learn about the diverse cultures from their neighbouring African countries, uniting artists and traditionalists across Africa.