Albert Nii Nortey Dowuona created a striking piece of art to commemorate the 2014 Ebola pandemic. His work “In Loving Memory” consists of small white crosses, each topped with a surgical glove and arranged in the shape of the Ebola virus. It’s currently on display at the Museum of Science and Technology in Accra, Ghana, as part of an exhibit that puts the spotlight on science in Ghana.
Ghana’s health workers and researchers made a considerable effort to keep the Ebola epidemic at bay as it swept through several other West African countries, but research in Ghana is about more than fighting off epidemics. Scientists in Ghana have been involved in international projects in space science, agricultural research, biomedical research and more. If you aren’t familiar with Ghanaian science, that’s because the vast majority of the world’s research comes from a few institutes in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
But even within Ghana, not everyone is aware of the research in the country. To increase awareness of local medical and scientific research, science charity GhScientific planned the current “Evolution of Science” exhibit with funding from Wellcome.
Over the past few months, they worked with artists, scientists and the exhibit’s curator Kwabena Agyare Yeboah to create a collection of artworks that reflect how science has developed in Ghana since its independence in 1957. One of those key moments was the recent Ebola epidemic, but the exhibit, also includes pieces that focus on the role of Ghanaians in science.
One of the portraits at the exhibit is a drawing of Letitia Obeng, by Courage Hunke. Obeng was the first woman in the country to receive a science PhD and the first female president of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Science. Showing a different side of Ghanaians’ involvement in research, artist Robert Commey painted Asibi, the Yellow Fever patient whose blood sample was the source of the “Asibi” strain of the virus, and which held the key to the Yellow Fever vaccine.
Research in Ghana is still growing, but scientists in the country are increasingly taking part in international collaborations and taking ownership of their work. That means they’re not necessarily directly following what other countries are doing, but focusing on what is most needed for Ghana.
“There is a lot of focus on indigenous problems and finding indigenous solutions,” says GhScientific’s founding director Hephzi Tagoe. “For example, the council for scientific and industrial research really has a focus on local problems and there are a lot of research findings and solutions that have been born out of this focus.”
These ideals are reflected in the “Evolution of Science” exhibit, with works that represents topics relevant to Ghana – whether that’s the proximity to the Ebola epidemic, or the forgotten story of how the Asibi Yellow Fever strain got its name.
Part of the mission of the project was to find a way to engage people in Ghana with the work that their researchers are doing, and judging by one of the comments left in their guestbook, it seems to be working. As one guest wrote, “science and science history never was this vivid, approachable and alive for a creative oriented person like me.”