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Faces of West Africa: 

Photographs by David A. Hoekema

Atrium Gallery, Second Christian Reformed Church Grand Haven, MI

August 31 – November 20, 2008

Exhibit reception following 10 am service on Sunday, September 21

“Everyone is a child of God; no one is a child of the earth alone”    (Akan proverb)

To travel in West Africa as a white American is to be an outsider and an insider—outsider by culture and color, insider because of the warmth with which one is invited to participate in Ghana’s communities and families.  The hardships and dislocations brought by global politics and economics have not loosened the powerful bonds that unite every individual to parents and uncles and “aunties” and cousins and—most important of all—to the elders of the family.  Some of these are alive, while others, still honored and considered part of the family, are now in the realm of the ancestors. 

Christians are more numerous than adherents of Islam or traditional religion, and in the churches of Ghana and its neighbors a visitor cannot help but be caught up in the spirit of joyful celebration.   Yet among Christians, Moslems, and followers of traditional practices one finds a spirit of cooperation and respect, rather than hostility.  If we are all children of God, why should we doubt that God looks after us all?  And do we not owe the same care to each other?

 The images in this exhibit, many of them exhibited at Calvin College’s downtown gallery in Grand Rapids in 2007, were taken during two extended periods of residence as Director of the Calvin College Study in Ghana program and during a brief visit to its neighbors to the east, Togo and Benin.  I hope that they convey something of the strength and resourcefulness of a society that honors its past even while living intensely in the present.  In the faces, the festivals, and even the fabrics of contemporary Ghana, there is a spirit of mutuality and interdependence far removed from the individualist patterns of North American life.  Members of the art committee at Second Christian Reformed Church encouraged me to highlight the faces of West Africa in selecting images for this exhibit, faces of young and old that convey the hopes, joys, and concerns of people who have learned to cope with challenges that most of us would find insurmountable—rampant tropical diseases, poor health care and education, ineffective government, and persistent poverty—without surrendering their spirits to despair.   In economic comparisons among the nations of the world, West Africans usually place very near the bottom; but in studies that try to measure the sense of happiness and well-being, they usually are found near the top. 

                Another Akan proverb observes, “The tree that does not know how to dance will be taught by the wind.”  We learn as we grow how to relate to others, how to bend and bow, how to move in concert and not in opposition to those around us.  My photographer’s eye was drawn to the people and the events that embody this dance in which all—even visitors—are invited to participate.  Photographs cannot convey, but perhaps viewers will be able to imagine, the rich palette of sounds that accompanied these scenes—singing, drumming, shouting, clapping, brass bands and volleys of celebratory gunfire, with lively conversations going on in several languages at once. 

                I am grateful to the art committee at Second CRC for inviting me to introduce another community to West African people and culture, and delighted to have the opportunity in this wonderful exhibit space to incorporate fabrics and sculptures that place my photographs in a richer context. 

                All photographs in the exhibit were made with a Nikon D-70 digital camera and one of several Nikon lenses (most frequently an 18-70mm compact zoom).   Image editing, using Picasa and Paintshop Pro, was kept to a minimum--the intense colors of West African life need no enhancement.   I understand photography to be an art of selection and emphasis, not independent creation, in which visual poetry is discovered rather than imposed.  It is my hope that these images of places and people I have come to treasure will disclose something of the invisible as well as the visible dimensions of Ghanaian cultural, social, and religious life. 


About the Photographer


                David A. Hoekema, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, served as Director of the Calvin Study in Ghana program in 2004 and 2005, and he has just been appointed director once again for 2010.  His areas of teaching and scholarship include political and social philosophy, philosophy of the arts, and African thought and culture.  Among his published books are Rights and Wrongs:   Coercion, Punishment and the State  (Susquehanna University Press); Campus Rules and Moral Community (Rowman and Littlefield); and a collection of essays, Christianity and Culture in the Crossfire (Eerdmans), co-edited with Bobby Fong.  Hoekema was born in Paterson, New Jersey, but when he was three his father, Rev. Anthony A. Hoekema, accepted a call to a church in Grand Rapids, where he attended Seymour, Baxter, and Oakdale Christian Schools and graduated from Central Christian High School.   He received the B.A. in philosophy from Calvin College in 1972 and the Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1981. 

Prior to his appointment as Academic Dean at Calvin in 1992 he was a member of the Philosophy faculty at St. Olaf College (1977-84) and Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association at the University of Delaware (1984-92).  After completing his term as dean he served as Interim Vice President for Student Life at Calvin and then as a full-time member of the Philosophy faculty.  In recent years he has assisted in developing Calvin’s minor program in African and African Diaspora Studies, of which he was director in spring 2008.

                Hoekema has pursued photography as an avocation since college days, when his photographs were published regularly in Calvin publications, the Grand Rapids Press,  and both The Banner and its notorious imitator, The Bananer. Hoekema’s photographs of Southeast Asia have been exhibited at St. Olaf College, where he formerly served on the Philosophy faculty and as director of the Term in the Far East.  His photographs of Ghana were featured in a solo exhibition at (106) Division, Calvin College’s downtown Grand Rapids gallery space, in October, 2007, and selected for the Festival of the Arts exhibit in Grand Rapids in June, 2008.





David A. Hoekema, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College

dhoekema@calvin.edu  616 526-6750 (office)  616 296-1300 (home)




The gallery is open Sundays after services, Mon.-Tue.-Thu. 9:00-4:00, Wed.-Fri. 9:00-noon; call 616-842-0710 for special arrangements.