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Noldor Artist Residency.

Joseph Awuah-Darko’s Noldor Artist Residency Leads Accra to Boundless Creativity

In November 2020, Joseph Awuah-Darko founded the Noldor Artist Residency in Accra, Ghana. As the country’s first independent arts residency and fellowship program for contemporary African artists, the nonprofit invites artists to explore their creative practices over four-week residencies as well as year-long programs for senior, junior, and visiting fellows.

Studios spanning over 7,500 square feet now take the place of a former pharmaceutical factory complex in the Labadi district, providing artists with the infrastructure, resources, and mentorship they need to succeed. Awuah-Darko spoke with Whitewall about launching this program, his ongoing philanthropy, and sustainability-focused initiatives.

Joseph Awuah-Darko Portrait of Joseph Awuah-Darko courtesy of the institute Museum of Ghana.

WHITEWALL: You launched the Noldor Artist Residency at the height of the pandemic. Why?

JOSEPH AWUAH-DARKO: One thing the pandemic showed me is how art can serve as a source of refuge and solace in the midst of adversity. It also introduced me to the nature in which art plays a key role in supporting economies. The pandemic informed my decision to start the residency, as I realized that COVID has exacerbated living situations for many artists on the continent, especially in Ghana. The pandemic shed light on the urgency of building infrastructure in supporting artists globally.

In a way, the collateral beauty of the pandemic has given us the opportunity to see the significance that art plays in our local and global economy and has provided us with the chance to slow down and appreciate art as the finest form of escapism and its ability to deliver a sense of utopia in very difficult times.

WW: How do you see the contemporary African art market today?

JAD: Contemporary African art has experienced a paradigm shift and has entered the global slipstream in a real way, as opposed to being “othered” in the way that it used to be.

I sometimes feel that the contemporary African market is unfairly referred to as “speculative” by conservative onlookers who may have a simplistic view of the growth in interest as a global trend. However, I am deeply convinced in the staying power of both emerging and established African contemporary art as its presence within the diaspora continues to balloon.

I also echo the perspective of Antwaun Sargent, the director at Gagosian, on the deep underrepresentation of BIPOC artists within museums and the need to focus on championing more art created by people of color, which of course includes African contemporary artists. The narrative has shifted, and this is very fulfilling to see.

Noldor Artist Residency. Courtesy of the Noldor Artist Residency.

WW: Who are the artists on your radar right now?

JAD: Within the residency, I am keeping my eyes keenly on artists such as Samuel Olayombo, Mimi Adu-Serwaah, Foster Sakyiamah, and Carine Mansa. Beyond the residency, I am very keen on works by Isshaq Ismail, Simphiwe Ndzube, Zandile Tshabalala, and Elizabeth Sekyiamah.

WW: You also own an e-waste management company, Agbogblo.Shine Initiative. Can you tell us about this?

JAD: During my tenure at Ashesi University, I was funded by the Ford Foundation, in partnership with the World Bank’s Climate Innovation Center, to pursue a project I was very passionate about. The objective was to conduct phonocentric empirical research on the site in order to explore ways to engage with the community to essentially upcycle electronic waste. That came from a point where I am, and remain, a staunch believer in the upcycling community.

I could engage my interest in contemporary art to essentially upcycle electronic waste to add value to products. Deeply inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Readymade philosophy, I upcycled elements from over two thousand electronic waste products from Agbogbloshie, Ghana’s largest e-waste dumpsite. That journey has followed me for a long time. The initiative still exists, but the work has slowed down because of the pandemic.

Noldor Artist Residency. The studio of the 2021 junior fellow Joshua Oheneba Takyi, courtesy of Noldor Artist Residency.

WW: How do art and philanthropy live side by side for you?

JAD: To that question, I will lead with one of my favorite quotes by Diane von Furstenberg: “Generosity is the best investment.”

I find great fulfillment in the solid foundation being built within Ghana’s relatively nascent art ecology, and what it will do for the future generations of practitioners. I am cognitively aware of the longevity and responsibility of the work the Noldor Residency does.

I find deep happiness in knowing that I am laying down the foundation day by day, brick by brick, with my team, to support the future of the African contemporary art ecology within the global art world. We will play a valuable role in nurturing over two hundred artists by the year 2025 in our dynamic program.

I see myself as a contemporary art collector in a private capacity, discovering new artists, conducting studio visits in the most unlikely spaces and environments. Growing to learn more about ways in which artists accurize visual vocabulary continues to excite me. It is by an organic extension of this fulfillment that I am able to do things that I enjoy, that I found philanthropy to be a natural way to create an infrastructure that sustainably supports these practitioners that I care and remain passionate about. Subsequently, I have blended art and philanthropy in an arguably seamless matter because the two remain relatively indistinguishable.





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