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In Conversation With Richmond Orlando Mensah On Championing Ghana’s Creative Talent with Manju Journal and New Book ‘Voices’

This month, we’re delighted to connect with Richmond Orlando Mensah, a leading figure in Ghana’s creative sphere and the brains behind Manju Journal. Witnessing a wave of talent in filmmaking, photography, and fashion during his second year at university in 2015, Richmond recognized the need for platforms to showcase these talents in Ghana. This led to the start of Manju Journal.

With the recent launch of his book Voices, a visual tribute to over 80 Ghanaian artists, curators, and gallerists worldwide, we had the privilege to discuss Richmond’s creative journey, his inspirations, and what lies ahead for both him and Manju Journal.

For those who don’t know you, tell us more about yourself and your work…

First of all, thank you, I’m so excited to be having this conversation. I love how you focus on artists and you go deeper in your interviews. I’m Richmond Orlando Mensah and I work full time in Ghana. I studied French and politics at the University of Ghana as my undergraduate course. Sometimes people wonder how you go from a background of diplomacy and switch to creativity, yet my passion for creativity has been innate. It all accelerated in 2015 when I was in my second year. I had so many friends who went into filmmaking, photography, fashion and all these kinds of different forms of arts.

I realised back then in Ghana, things were very limited when it comes to platforms. Whenever my friends wanted to get their work out there, they had to start pitching to publications in Europe and sometimes it’s very tricky, because you don’t know the editors and you don’t have any contacts. That is where the idea for Manju Journal started.

“I realised back then in Ghana, things were very limited when it comes to creative platforms.”

Sarfo Emmanuel Annor, Clementine, 2022 & Anya Paintsil, Neigh, 2023

And tell us more about Manju Journal

I was in my second year of university and I thought, ‘You know what, it’s time to start something of my own to showcase what I see around me.’ That’s how the idea for Manju Journal was born – a celebration of the talents, the work of my friends, and the things I observed in Accra, in Africa, and even in the diaspora. So, I began this platform on Instagram as a curatorial space.

I started gaining a substantial following, even though I didn’t have a website at the time. Everything I did was about promoting and highlighting talents. Gradually, things started to pick up. Artists would reach out asking me to cover their events and work and it was all coming from a place of genuine passion. Over time, it kept growing. It was a juggling act between my 9-to-5 job and running Manju Journal on the side.

“That’s how the idea for Manju Journal was born – a celebration and spotlight on the talents, the work of my friends, and the things I observed in Accra, in Africa.”

Kwabena Sekyi Kubi, Together & ONE as part of THE NEW BLACK VANGUARD, 2022

Is it almost like having two personalities?

In the office, I embody a very corporate persona. However, as the day winds down, I immerse myself in my art, in my own world. The creative pulse of Accra has been accelerating, with artists pushing boundaries and creating remarkable work. I’m particularly drawn to the vibrant exhibitions and pop-up events happening in the city. When I’m present, I often engage in panel discussions and actively participate in the cultural events unfolding across the city. I then share these experiences on our platform.

Can you share some of the most impactful or memorable moments on your journey as a curator and creative director? What stands out so far?

I had to re-strategize my approach with the platform. Gradually, I began reaching out to publications like i-D and Vogue Italia, with the intention of curating for them. While I’m not a photographer myself, I have a deep appreciation for contemporary African photography. I thought, why not leverage the work I’ve done with Manju over the past few years to support these photographers in Africa? I initiated this with i-D magazine, who have been ardent supporters of Manju for the past four years. They consistently show great interest in what Manju is up to, and that kind of genuine support means a lot to me.

“i-D magazine have been ardent supporters of Manju for the past four years. That kind of genuine support means a lot to me.”

Afia Prempeh, Kwaku and Osei Tutu Prempeh, 2021

This venture with i-D blossomed into a broader exploration of African talent, spanning designers, filmmakers, and photographers. Later this led to an extension of our efforts with Vogue Italia, focusing on championing female talent. Our first video project featured twenty outstanding female photographers from Africa and the diaspora, gaining steady momentum.

In the challenging year of 2020, amid the pandemic, an agency unexpectedly approached me for a special project with Gucci, seeking collaboration with a black or African-owned media platform. My colleague Kwussi, who joined Manju in 2020 with extensive styling experience, recognised the potential and offered his expertise as fashion director on the collaboration. While I’m cautious about labelling it a “breakthrough,” our project with Gucci during lockdown undeniably marked a significant milestone for us.

Afia Prempeh, Kwaku and Osei Tutu Prempeh, 2021

Tell us more about what you did with Gucci…

The project was to relaunch the Jackie 1964 bag. It was an old bag but it had vast story potential, prompting its reissue under the direction of Creative Director Alessandro Michele. The process began with various discussions and the exchange of mood boards. We were one of over 10 black or African-owned media platforms in consideration. The selection process took over a month, and eventually, we secured the project.

The concept we developed was titled “We Are All They.” This narrative was crafted in Ghana, with an entirely Ghanaian creative team, encompassing the photographer, stylist, and art direction. It celebrated the fluidity of gender language in Ghanaian society. In our local languages, we don’t differentiate between “he” or “she”. When I inquire about someone named Christie, the response isn’t expected to be “she’s there,” but rather “they’re over there.” This linguistic nuance inspired our collaboration with Gucci, drawing from the legacy of the prolific photographer, James Barnor, who was also featured in my book. As we delved into the creation of these stories, we were fascinated to discover that many people weren’t aware of this linguistic practice in Ghanaian society, where “they” is the inclusive term used for everyone. That was the essence of our collaboration with Gucci.

What does Manju mean?

It basically means something authentic, something beautiful.

Manju basically means something authentic, something beautiful.”

James Barnor, Self-portrait with a store assistant at the West African Drug Company, central Accra, 1952 & Eric Adjei Tawiah, Red On Black, 2021

You just launched your new book Voices full of interviews and imagery. There are about 80 artists you showcased in your book Voices, how did you go about the selection process? Did you have anything in particular you wanted to spotlight?

The selection process was a huge project that took two years, greatly aided by my publishers. There were no predetermined profiles in the book. Each artist was interviewed, either in person or online, with sessions lasting a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour.

The focus was on showcasing the amazing work of artists, whether based in Ghana or part of the diaspora. The goal was to let the artists speak in their own words, providing insight into their daily inspirations and creative processes. Voices: The Artist In Their Own Words serves as a window into their worlds, beyond just their final artworks.

Nana Yaw Oduro, Fruits Are For Boys

If there was one thing special we should know about “Voices” what would it be?

What sets Voices apart is its emphasis on authenticity. The artists we approached were genuinely eager to be part of this project, recognising the value of community and the timing being just right for this endeavour. Their enthusiasm to contribute to this documentation of their artistic journeys meant a lot to us.

Documenting these experiences from our unique perspective felt imperative. It’s a call to action, a way to say: here’s what’s happening in Ghana, in Africa, right now, and there’s so much potential for further support and growth. Voices serves as a gateway for individuals to champion and uplift these remarkable talents.

“What sets Voices apart is its emphasis on authenticity. The artists we approached were genuinely eager to be part of this project, recognising the value of community and the timing being just right for this endeavour.”

Ghana has a rich cultural and artistic heritage. How does the local culture and art scene influence your work at Manju Journal?

Everything I do with my work is inspired by what I’m seeing in Ghana, in Africa. So there is this authentic narrative when I’m working. It’s always very raw.

Ghana stands at the forefront of the contemporary art movement today with undeniable skill, talent and creativity now being celebrated. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this incredible outcome?

I think creativity in Ghana has always been there and I strongly believe this. It’s part of us in Africa and the creative scene is strong. It’s just unfortunate that the world is only now getting to understand who we are as Ghanaians, as Africans. It’s always been part of our spirits. Creativity is part of how we speak, how we interact, how we talk. This is nothing new.

Tell us more about your platform Manju Journal, what are you the most excited about? Are there any upcoming artists or initiatives that we should know about?

I always say that there is still much to do. The long term goal for Manju Journal is to establish ourselves and go more into publication. It’s not just going to be about Ghanaian artists, but African artists in the diaspora. I mean, there are more amazing initiatives we are trying to look into, but we want Voicesto be a gateway to some of the things we are delving into. However I think publishing is the long term goal for us.

Voices is available to purchase now, 5% of company profits from sales will be donated to causes and efforts that support grassroots visual arts.

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