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Photos depicting 1920s & 1930s Gold Coast life to showcase at Dubai 2024 exhibition

Updated: Jan 7

A late Ghanaian photographer, whose work contributed to Ghana’s independence struggle, will have his photography collection showcased at a solo exhibition in Dubai in January 2024.

J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, Chief Fisherman and His Wife (1930s), courtesy of the artist and Efiε Gallery, Dubai

J.K Bruce-Vanderpuije is credited as being one of the most significant yet under-recognised forces of 20th century African photography, with a career spanning seven decades, and comprising 50,000 works.

His Deo Gratias studio in James Town, Accra, founded in 1922, is understood to be the oldest photography studio still operating in West Africa.

The showcase of J.K Bruce-Vanderpuije’s work at the Efiε Gallery in Dubai documents the intricate Kente textiles, impeccable tailoring and distinctive accessories of traditional Ghanaian wear and its potential as an act of rebellion under British colonial rule.

The exhibition called 'The Hidden Icon of Photography in Africa' runs from 12 January - 24 February 2024, and will include works restored over the past three years by Bruce-Vanderpiuje’s granddaughter Kate Tamakloe.

Panel discussion

The Gallery will stage an in-person panel discussion between Ethiopian photographer and curator Aïda Muluneh and Kate to coincide with the launch on 12 January between 6:30pm and 8:00pm Dubai time.

The discussion will be called: of ‘Unveiling the Shadows of the Past: J. K. Bruce-Vanderpuije - The Hidden Icon of Photography in Africa’, and will cover the late photographer's career, the importance of archiving and photography on the African continent from the 1920s till the present day.

Capturing transformation

Bruce-Vanderpiuje’s works capture the transformation from colonial Gold Coast to independent Ghana.

J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, Accra Optimists Club (1930s), courtesy of the artist and Efie Gallery, Dubai
J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, Accra Optimists Club (1930s), courtesy of the artist and Efiε Gallery, Dubai

On 28 February 1948, Bruce-Vanderpuije captured the fatal shooting of Sargeant Adjetey Sowah and others at the Christiansborg crossroads.

These events were also known as "the 1948 disturbances", and encouraged the anti-colonial movements to pressure the British government to institute a committee to investigate the killings.

The committee recommended self-government for the Gold Coast which eventually led to the country gaining its independence on 6 March 1957.

Unseen collection

This is not the first time that Bruce-Vanderpiuje’s work has been viewed internationally.

J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, Accra Optimists Club (1930s), courtesy of the artist and Efie Gallery, Dubai
J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, Achimota School Boxing Club (1933) courtesy of the artist and Efiε Gallery, Dubai

The artist’s first gallery show at London’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair (12-15 October 2023) showcased unseen photographs (see images in this blog).

Curated by Ethiopian photographer Aïda, the exhibition featured six unseen works chronicling life in the 1930s, exploring how varying social and political influences of time shaped Ghanaian identity and culture.

The works displayed at 1-54 in London provide similar insight into 1930s Ghana by contrasting traditional customs against colonial influences, with subjects ranging from boxing culture to women’s marriage rites.

Kate said: “The process of restoring my grandfather’s photographs has been a labour of love over the past three years, enabling us to reflect upon Ghana’s history with a fresh perspective. The photographs continue to teach us new things about life and society during his time.

"As the custodian of my grandfather’s estate, my work with Efiε Gallery is an important step forward in preserving his legacy and sharing it with the public.”

Kwame Mintah (above), director of Efiε Gallery, said: “J. K. Bruce-Vanderpuije's remarkable vision offers us a window to the beauty, culture and daily life of a Ghana that once was.

"In this prolific photographer’s works, we discover not only his genius as a practitioner and innovator but also the evolution of Ghanaian culture and identity over the 20th century. Recounting seven decades’ worth of history, Bruce-Vanderpuije’s vast body of work sets him firmly as the forefather of modern African photographer.”


J. K. Bruce-Vanderpuije was born on 7 March, 1899 to the late Mr Emmanuel Vanderpuije and the late Madam Eleanor Afua Bruce of Otublohum Royal family, James Town, British Accra. His mother was the sister of the late Mathew and Tommy Bruce of James Town, and his father was an influential Agent of Messrs. J. J. Fisher & Co. Limited, during the 1880s to the 1900s and was popularly known to be one of the 'Merchant Princes of the Gold Coast'.

J. K. Bruce-Vanderpuije was educated at the Accra Royal School, the first formal educational institution in the Gold Coast (1672) at James Town and his education and up-bringing was jointly undertaken by his late Uncles Messrs. J. W. Blankson Mills and J. Kitson Mills founders of Accra Royal School, with whom he stayed at Zion House James Town, Accra.

While attending school, J. K. Bruce-Vanderpuije, took up photography as his hobby and after leaving school, he trained under J.A.C Holmes for a few years. He was employed at the Accra Town Council now Accra Metropolitan Authority, for a brief period. He was one of the few photographers in the pre-independence period, who excelled in the photographic profession.

So attractive and popular were his photographs that most Government functions were assigned to him, as well as designing campaigns for international companies.

Efiε Gallery

Efiε Gallery is a contemporary art gallery in Dubai specialising in the representation and advancement of artists of African origin, both from the African continent and its global diaspora.

Since its inception in 2021, and the opening of its permanent space in 2022 in Al Khayat Art Avenue, the gallery has been working with the likes of El Anatsui, Aïda Muluneh, Maggie Otieno, Isshaq Ismail and Yaw Owusu.

Click here to RSPV to the discussion.

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