East Legon Past Forward

60 x 60
Juliette Valat

The Abotsiman territory is an island in the upper-middle-class suburban area of East Legon, Accra. Villas and mansions dominate the landscape of this gentrified neighbourhood. As a result, the streets of East Legon hardly accommodate public life. Most of the residents only get around in cars. There are no sidewalks, but if there were, they would mostly be skirting fenced-off private properties. As one approaches Abotsi Street, the fences open up, and more and more people are inhabiting the streets. Stay-at-home and self-employed inhabitants cook, eat, and sell food in this public space.

Food is at the heart of the community’s life. In economic terms, but also – and more importantly –social terms, cooking represents one of the main activities of the compounds. Food is not confined within the walls of indoor kitchens: it is extended into open spaces, into the public realm. The houses are small, often without kitchens or storage space for cookware – these end up inhabiting the open spaces in front of the house instead. Other furniture and pantry items are left outside, to be used at one’s convenience in the same way a kitchen, a dining room or a pantry would be used. This project looks at the everchanging layout of these tools and analyses them as space- generating objects. By giving a function to the area they are standing on, the various artifacts create rooms without walls, allowing for new activities without new constructions. The tools visually organize the in-between spaces that would otherwise be left vacant, and suggest links and boundaries between places and people.

The installation 60x60 explores how this experience varies from the ones created by modern kitchens installed in the surrounding villas. By opposing the verticality of the fixed kitchen modules (60x60cm) to the horizontality of the traditional kitchen, this installation celebrates the flexibility, diversity, and eclecticism of Abotsiman cooking spaces. These spaces blend traditional handcrafted cookware, like asankas (grinding pots made of clay and its wooden masher), with mass-produced plastic tools, including the iconic yellow Kufuor water gallons. These emblematic tools are overlaid on the elevations of an existing kitchen in East Legon, which is complemented by textures, colors, and history.

The project questions the relevance of modern kitchens in Accra, Ghana. Ghanaians‘ favorite dishes include fufu, banku, kenkey, kelewele, and other traditional dishes that require bulky cooking utensils and can potentially damage kitchen floors in the form of stains or cracks. For this reason, even in modern mansions, the indoor kitchen is often abandoned in favor of paved outdoor areas. 60x60 initiates a conversation on the limits of the westernization of kitchens without prior adjustments to Ghanaian cooking culture, urging investigation into hybrids that would bring the local lifestyle into future constructions.