Resilience by Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah, My Peoples Project

Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah

Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah responds to our My Peoples brief.

The Black gaze is relatable, humanistic, empathetic, authentic, truthful, inclusive, defiant.

My father Stephen Kofi Adu-Sanyah became a victim of a tragic surgical mistake in a German hospital in 2016. The doctors didn’t provide him with a blood transfusion during surgery, and let my father bleed out in front of them. He lost 70% of his blood during routine prostate surgery, leading to a complete breakdown of his nervous system. As a consequence, his optical nerve was affected, leaving him blind.

He left the hospital as a severely disabled and blind man in 2016, living his life mostly at home in his apartment near Frankfurt. As an incredibly intelligent former computer scientist who had worked for Lufthansa as a software engineer, what he missed most what to read and to code. The damage to his nervous system stole his ability to properly walk, so he spent most of his time in bed or cooking. He lived alone.

In 2020, I began documenting his life as a means to cope and titled the project RESILIENCE. It was supposed to be a photography and film project about my father’s strength and unique journey of self-recovery, and a story about healing a father-daughter relationship that had been damaged a long time ago. We got closer through photography. I took this portrait of him on my mother’s birthday in June 2020, who although divorced cared for and supported him in finding legal justice.

In summer 2021, his prostate had grown again, and he decided to want to visit Ghana, his home country, again, for the first time as a disabled blind man. He wanted to visit Dr. Wiafe, a herbal medicine doctor, and so I helped him prepare the trip and traveled with him and my mum to Accra. Within ten days of therapy with Dr. Wiafe, my dad’s health dramatically improved – he could walk faster, and recognized the shape of my fingers one evening. He wanted to stay longer and I flew back home to Switzerland.

“But neither am I a real Ghanaian anymore,” he said to me on the phone. After that phone call, he got weaker, couldn’t stand up anymore. He was transported to a hospital in Accra and supposed to come back home to Germany with ambulance transport. But he never came back. Within six days, he died. I lost my father on the 8th of August 2021.

The submitted photograph is the most important picture I have ever taken. It shows him with dignity, captures his essence, without emphasizing the agony he lived through every day.

What is a Black man’s gaze?
What is a blind man’s gaze?
What is a daughter’s gaze?

What is a photographic gaze,
on a man who cannot see?

How, if not with our bare eyes, do we see?

My father’s warmth, wisdom, and gentleness define my relationship to Ghana, a part of me I long rejected as a woman growing up in rural Germany.

Culture is complex.


About Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah

Akosua (pronounced: ‘A-koss-ya’) Viktoria Adu-Sanyah is an internationally exhibited and published German-Ghanaian visual artist and documentary photographer based in Zürich, Switzerland. Her work is frequently awarded for exploring new territories through image-making, research, and human connection.

You can find more of Akosua’s work on her website, Instagram and Twitter accounts.


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