Forget everything you think you know about African art...

And embrace all that you don’t yet know about the art, culture and creativity of West African artists today. Major new sculptural installations, painting, drawing, photography, textiles, video, sound and fashion ask us to consider global questions of trade and commerce, cultural influence, environmental destruction and identity. Challenging and humorous, curious, noisy, elegiac and eclectic – this is the dynamism of West African cultures today. These form a huge, city-wide exhibition, spreading across Manchester Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume (Platt Hall).

Over the Olympic summer, we are celebrating the global and the local, exploring the links between Manchester and West Africa as part of the London 2012 cultural festival.

There are more We Face Forward exhibitions and events at The Manchester Museum and the National Football Museum and a packed programme of We Face Forward family activities at various venues.

And We Face Forward reaches far beyond Manchester’s gallery spaces. The music programme, curated by Band On The Wall and The Manchester Museum, includes world renowned acts such as Afro-Cubism, Femi Kuti, Angelique Kidjo, Diabel Cissohko and Kanda Bongo Man and reflects the incredible diversity and brilliance of musical styles from West Africa.


Georges Adéagbo (Benin), El Anatsui (Ghana/Nigeria), Hélène Amazou (Togo / Belgium), Lucy Azubuike (Nigeria), Mohamed Camara (Mali / France), Cheick Diallo (Mali / France), Aida Duplessis (Mali), Em’kal Eyongakpa (Cameroon), Aboubakar Fofana (Mali / France), Meschac Gaba (Benin/ Netherlands), Francois-Xavier Gbré ( Ivory Coast / France), Romuald Hazoumè (Benin), Abdoulaye Armin Kane (Senegal), Abdoulaye Konaté (Mali), Soungalo Malé (Mali), Hamidou Maiga (Burkina Faso), Nii Obodai (Ghana), Emeka Ogboh (Nigeria), Abraham Oghobase, Amarachi Okafor (Nigeria / UK), Charles Okereke (Nigeria), Nnenna Okore (Nigeria / USA), Duro Olowu (Nigeria / London), George Osodi (Nigeria / London), Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso), Ibrahima Niang AKA Piniang (Senegal), Nyani Quarmyne (Ghana), Abderramane Sakaly (Senegal / Mali), Amadou Sanogo (Mali), Malick Sidibé (Mali), Pascale Marthine Tayou (Cameroon / Belgium), Barthélémy Toguo (Cameroon / France), Victoria Udondian (Nigeria), Séraphin Zounyekpe (Benin)


AfroCubism – featuring Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club and Toumani Diabaté (Cuba / Mali), Diabel Cissokho (Senegal), Angelique Kidjo with Manchester World Voices Choir (Benin / UK) ; Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra (Nigeria / UK); Endless Journey – featuring members of Mamane Barka and Etran Finatawa (Niger); Kanda Bongo Man (Congo / UK); Jaliba Kuyateh & The Kumareh Band (Gambia); Seckou Keita Band (Senegal / UK)

What the flag represents, and where the name came from

The idea for this exhibition grew from the many West African textiles in Manchester galleries; evidence of the historic links between West Africa and Manchester from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the hosting of the Pan-African Congress in 1945. These links are also reflected today in the many people of West African descent who are Mancunians.

In 1960, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah said “We face neither East nor West: we face forward” stating his resistance to Cold War super powers.
The exhibition takes its direction from Nkrumah’s statement of independence and celebrates the dynamism and creativity of West African artists today. We Face Forward also highlights the pressing global concerns present in the work of these artists: matters of economic and cultural exchange, environment and sustainability and the place of tradition in contemporary culture.

The emblem of the exhibition is a new artwork designed by Meschac Gaba. His flag, which flies at each venue, is entitled Ensemble and combines all the West African nations with the Union Jack in a gesture of solidarity and friendship.


Martin Barlow, curator of the exhibition Moving Into Space at the National Football Museum talks about the exhibition.

Barthélémy Toguo, Lucy Azubuike and Nnenna Okore, three of the exhibited artists, talk about their work and their interest in using materials which reflect the lifestyle and experience of the people of West Africa.

Twitter (#wefaceforward)

Creative Tourist


Street life, dazzling dress, social commentary and a riot of sensuous colour interweave in a rich assembly of West African art, writes Charles Gore in the Times Higher Education

Nine countries show off their talent as five city venues link up for a summer celebration. Helen Nugent in the Guardian