Can you introduce yourselves and Ghana ThinkTank?
I am a US artist who spent about a decade living overseas, often working on the fringes of International Development of Conflict Resolution. I witnessed the unintended consequences of good intentions, along with the patronising view much of the so-called "developed" world has ot the rest of the world. Ghana ThinkTank is an attempt to flip that power dynamic.
It was founded in 2006 by myself, John Ewing (USA), and Matey Odonkor (Ghana), based on our experiences related to those issues working and living in Ghana, Cuba, Benin, Fiji, El Salvador, Serbia and Kosovo, as well as our frustration with US interventions in the Middle East and Africa, often in the name of "freedom" or "democracy."
Since then, our team has continued to grow - Maria del Carmen Montoya joined in 2009, and Aaron Krach and I are at FACT Liverpool for Ghana ThinkTank this summer.
As part of Ghana ThinkTank, Aaron Krach has worked on multiple phases of GTT work in NYC. He’s also travelled to the Republic of Georgia and Kosovo to facilitate projects in Tbilisi and Mitrovica, respectively.
What's the aim / mission of the collective?
Ghana Thinktank has been “Developing the First World" since 2006. We collect problems in the U.S. and Europe, and send them to think tanks we established in Cuba, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, El Salvador, and the U.S. prison system to analyze and solve. Our network continues to grow...
Then we work with the communities where the problems originated to implement those solutions - whether they seem impractical or brilliant.
By exchanging problems and looking for help in unexpected places, we flip typical power dynamics, shift points of view and build unlikely coalitions.
How and why did you establish the "Think Tanks" all over the world?
This simple idea - reversing notions of expertise and questioning our assigned power relationships, has taken us on projects throughout the world - from New York to Tbilisi to Tassoultante to Kokrobite to Shenzen to Karlsruhe to Vranje (to name a few) - and now to Liverpool and Zagreb and Hagen! Our goal is to choose think tanks on countries the so-called "developed" world often stereotypes as "needy" or even as "enemy." In El Salvador, our think tank is a rural radio station. In Ghana, a group of bike mechanics.
We try to work with a wide variety of people in terms of occupation and economics, and our only rules are "No International Development Organisations, and no Artists" because we feel those are the two worlds we are straddling, so we want to make sure the voices are coming from elsewhere. Of course we broke that rule twice: we worked with an Aid organization in Afghanistan as a thinktank once, and a group of artists In Iran.
What do you feel is useful about the insight offered by residents of Iran, Cuba and Ghana on "first world" problems?
In the "first world" we are used to "helping" others while being blind to the realities of our impact. Happy to tell others how they can better live, and sometimes try to help them get there. Ghana ThinkTank is a chance for us to shut up and listen for a change. It questions our assumptions about who is an expert. For me, GTT was a chance to show my own culture what it is like for another culture to impose their goodwill on us. But it also lets us see part of another culture transposed into our own lives. Everyone loves to complain and everyone wants to be needed. Those two human truths allow this project to create intimate links between very different groups of people.
As well as groups in developing countries all over the world, you also work with people in the US prison system. What makes their perspective on the world so different?
The reason we work with people in the US prison system is because a lot of the stereotypes and divisions we impose on the "developing" world, we also impose on prisoners. Ghana ThinkTank is a chance to see prisoners as people who we can reach out to for help with our problems.
You're going to be inviting FACT's audience to submit their problems to be solved using #MyLiverpoolProblem on social media. Do you expect people to share problems about the city itself, more universal social issues, or personal grievances?
We always get a great mix of problems, from personal to societal, from seemingly serious to seemingly silly. And we want this range. We will have a problem about homelessness next to a problem like "I am afraid to dance at parties." Those are both Liverpool problems, and we consider them both important enough to be sent to our think tanks.
I really hope people submit personal grievances as well as city problems, and the fact is, we often find the most universal in the most seemingly trivial. I was amazed by how universal a problem like "My neighbour's dog barks too much" is, as I watched the think tanks from almost every continent in the world discuss it...
And how else can people get involved?
We will be in residence at FACT from 26 July - 10 August, which will include a Show and Tell event on 29 July at 6pm in FACTLab where people are invited to come along and find out more about what we do. Then we will return to Liverpool in November for the Human Futures event too.
We will also be launching a GTT App that allows you to submit problems directly to think tanks as part of the Connecting Cities project with FACT and Connecting Cities Network initiated by Public Art Lab in cooperation with Ars Electronica, Media Architecture Institute, FACT, amberPlatform/BIS, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, m-cult, Medialab-Prado, iMAL, Foundation Riga 2014 and Videospread.
Submit your problems using the postcards in the FACT foyer, or on social media with #MyLiverpoolProblem For updates related to this, you can sign up for a quarterly newsletter, twitter, and other social media at GhanaThinkTank.org
With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union