Wednesday 19 May 2021


The largest survey to date of work by the acclaimed Ghanaian-British photographer James Barnor opens in London May 19 at the Serpentine Galleries.

The show, titled “James Barnor: Accra/London - A Retrospective”, runs until Oct. 24 and gives an overview of a career that has spanned more than 60 years, two continents and numerous cities, including New York and Paris.

Bettina Korek, chief executive of the Serpentine, said it was “urgent” to present a major survey of Barnor’s photography because “public knowledge of his work does not yet match the influence it has had upon generations of creators who’ve followed in his footsteps.”

Born in 1929 within a family of photographers, Barnor began his profession in the Ghanaian capital in the late 1940s, before moving to London in 1959 and travelling back and forth between continents.

“Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space,” according to the Serpentine. “Whether making family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignment, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and his images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters.”

The show’s organizers said that Barnor has “captured images of societies in transition and transformation” throughout his career, with his work encompassing the genres of studio portraiture, photojournalism and social documentary photography. As one of Ghana’s first photojournalists, Barnor recorded major social and political changes, including the lead-up to his homeland’s independence from British colonial rule in 1957.

The photos in this massive show are drawn from his wide-ranging archive and focuses on the decades 1950–80, selected from more than 32,000 available images, and presented in “broadly chronological” order, the Serpentine said.

Ahead of the retrospective, when the gallery remained closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Serpentine organized an online event titled "Portraits for the Future: A Celebration of James Barnor" - which gave the public a taste of the show’s scope.

Held last March, this event presented musicians, artists, and poets such as Nii Ayikwei Parkes paying homage to Barnor, while Michael Bloomberg (Serpentine chairman), model Naomi Campbell and others spoke of his global influence (see:

“What a journey this has been, what a journey you’ve had,” said Campbell, as she recalled first meeting Barnor in Ghana. “You’re a true visionary, an artist, and your influence on a generation of artists can be felt throughout the world and back, and all these years and today, it grows even stronger.”

During the “celebration”, Barnor recalled in a flim clip how he came to his craft and career. “Photography was in my family,” he said. “So right from the time that I became a little boy, my uncle was taking photographs in the house, and travelling as well. Three or four people in my family were doing photography. Somebody taught my uncle, and one my uncles taught my cousin, who taught me. And there was another photographer, another cousin… and he more or less got me into what I call… journalistic photography.”

Some of Barnor’s iconic shots appeared on the cover of the influential South African culture magazine Drum during the Sixties, as he continued assignments for this publication following the move to London in December 1959. He returned to Ghana in the Seventies, to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in the country, according to the Serpentine. He then settled permanently in the UK in 1994 and now lives in West London.

Asked by Serpentine artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist how he “photographed freedom”, Barnor said: “I get (freedom) through my life, through my photography and my association with people... I always say it’s better to give than to be given… Civilization flourishes when men plant trees under which they will never sit. When you give... today, it will ripple and many people will get it. Even if you’re not around, that is freedom that matters.” 

The retrospective is curated by Lizzie Carey-Thomas, chief curator at the Serpentine, and Awa Konaté, assistant curator. Several activities are planned around Barnor’s work and around photography in general

Images (top to bottom): Photo by James Barnor at the Serpentine Galleries; James Barnor with South African artists Robyn Denny and Mamela Nyamza in Paris (photo by McKenzie); "James Barnor: Accra/London - A Retrospective" (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine) Photograph: Zoe Maxwell; Ebo Taylor and the Saltpond City Band play at "Portraits for the Future: A Celebration of James Barnor".

Monday 3 May 2021


Marleen Julien speaks with infectious passion when discussing Haitian Creole. A  specialist in interpreting and translation, with some 15 years of experience, she describes herself as an advocate who’s dedicated to promoting the language and culture of Haiti.

Currently based in Paris, France, Julien worked for the Haitian government and the United Nations for more than a decade, and during that time, she “witnessed an alarming and widespread issue regarding the quality of Haitian Creole materials,” she says.

The experience led her to focus on helping Haitians access information in their mother tongue, and she set out on a mission to improve the Haitian Creole translation industry's standards, she told SWAN

In 2004, Julien founded Creole Solutions (in Chicago) to provide translation services and support to organizations that serve Haitian communities. For her, this was more than just a new business venture; rather, it was her “life's calling”, she says, as she recalls building the business “from the ground up”.

She says she is continuing to expand Creole Solutions' capabilities, ensuring that she “leverages every possible tool available to promote her native tongue”. She translates and publishes short stories that promote literacy and critical thinking among children in Haiti's remote areas, among her activities. Of Haitian heritage, Julien has also focused on development, and her university degrees include a master's in International Development from the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).

The following interview, conducted by telephone and email, is part of SWAN’s series about translators of Caribbean literature, done in collaboration with the Caribbean Translation Project.

SWAN: In 2004, you founded Creole Solutions to provide translation services and support to organizations that serve Haitian communities. Can you tell us about the reasons and the motivation behind this project?

Marleen Julien: I played the role of translator and interpreter for the Haitian Consulate in Chicago since 1998. There was a great need for qualified Haitian Creole language professionals and reliable linguistic resources at that time.

Organizations and individuals were constantly reaching out to me for help with translation and interpretation services. So I started helping pro bono. I eventually became a freelance translator and interpreter for many organizations. There were, however, minimal resources for Haitian Creole translators. In 2004, I founded Creole Solutions to fill that gap.

SWAN: You speak several languages, including English, French and Haitian Creole. Where and how did you begin learning languages?

M.J.: Language learning has always been like second nature to me. I grew up in a multilingual and multicultural environment in the United States.

As children, my parents made French music, books, and movies accessible to my siblings and me. I studied French in high school and college.  When I moved to Paris for my graduate studies, that allowed me to take my French to the professional level.

My parents also made sure that we were fluent in Haitian Creole. My mother only spoke in Haitian Creole with us. My father always bought whatever materials he could find in Creole because he wanted us to read, speak, and write correctly. I began to become an expert in Haitian Creole when I worked for the Haitian Consulate.

SWAN: How did your interest in translation begin?

M.J.: I would say I have been practicing translation since childhood. My family moved around a lot, and every few years, I had to adapt to a new linguistic and cultural environment. I was already interpreting for family and friends by the time I was in the sixth grade.

SWAN: You've translated and published "short stories that promote literacy and critical thinking amongst children in Haiti's remote areas". Can you tell us more about this?

M.J.:  I have two boys. I wanted to teach them Haitian Creole as early as possible. One of my biggest challenges was finding Creole books for their age. So I started translating children's stories to read to them.

In 2020, I started sharing the stories with a not-for-profit organization based in Haiti to use as a part of their literacy program. These stories are valuable resources for the children because I have adapted them to the Haitian language and culture.

SWAN: You've also worked on adapting international fables into Haitian Creole. What are some of the linguistic challenges of such adaptations?

M.J.: In all of my adaptations, I incorporate Haitian expressions and proverbs. So one of my biggest challenges is finding the correct adage to relay the message. I recently translated the Panchatantra (ancient Indian fables) story of the Mice and the Elephants. The lesson was: a friend in need is a friend indeed. I incorporated the Haitian saying "Zanmi lwen se lajan sere", which means that friends who are far away are wonderful for a rainy day.

Another challenge is envisioning the fables for a contemporary audience. When I translated the (Brothers Grimm) classic Four Clever Brothers, I replaced the dragon with a gangster who kidnapped a wealthy landowner's daughter. Children in Haiti are not familiar with dragons, but kidnapping is something they are familiar with because it's in the news.

SWAN: How important is translation for today's world, and especially for schoolchildren?

M.J.: In Haiti, the schools do not have many resources. Furthermore, most of the limited resources they have are either outdated or in the French language. This lack of resources is a significant barrier to learning. From my experience, translating and adapting for students in their language and culture allows them to understand the concepts better.

The translated and adapted materials prepare them to become better students and empower them not only for themselves but also for their country and the world.

SWAN: In the Caribbean, as in other regions, it sometimes feels as if countries are divided by language. How can people in the literary and education spheres help to bridge these linguistic "borders"?

M.J.: No language medium is shared universally by all Caribbean peoples. However, we have a shared history and identity. I began to appreciate Jamaican Patois better when I learned how its syntax was very similar to that of Haitian Creole. Both languages have roots in the Fon language. With translation and education, we will realize that we have lot of in common. This realization will lead to a desire to learn more about each other's languages.

SWAN: How do you see your translation projects evolving to reach a wider audience?

M.J.: I'm glad you asked that question. I'm working on a project that I'm very excited about because I know that it will achieve this exact purpose. It's a transformational project that will not only enlighten, educate and empower people, it will also serve to bridge the linguistic gap by sharing our common human experiences across the globe.

It's my latest book, and I'll be launching it this summer. I'm looking forward to sharing it with the world. – SWAN

Photos: Marleen Julien by Walter Aleman Photography and Events; the cover of one of Julien’s translations into Haitian Creole. 

Follow The Caribbean Translation Project on Twitter: @CaribTranslate.