From A VISIBLE MAN: A Memoir by Edward Enninful, on sale September 6. Published by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Edward Enninful. It only takes a brief scroll through Instagram to know that vacation season is in full swing, with an endless array of easy, breezy, and perfectly summer-ready looks on show. And nobody was in the sun-kissed party spirit more than Madonna, who celebrated her 64th birthday in high style on a break with friends and family in Sicily. From a Dolce & Gabbana dress inspired by traditional Italian majolica tiles, to a romantic silk gown by Luisa Beccaria featuring a delicate floral print, the queen of pop was truly living la dolce vita.
The situation simmered until it exploded and my father suddenly said goodbye and left for England. At first I thought he had simply abandoned us, because I didn’t understand the bigger picture and no one talked to kids about that kind of stuff. Then, maybe two months after that, Kenneth and I came home from school and all the other kids were jumping around, excited. “We’re going to London!” London? Where all the pop stars I had read about came from? Amazing! In the time between when my father left Ghana and we met him in London, he was put up in a little residence in Lancaster Gate, not far from where Alec, my husband, and I live now, and worked to ensure us safe passage. Despite what I do for a living, the apartment I share today with Alec bears a similar asceticism to the sparsely furnished home we lived in in Tema, where a television was what counted for decor. Sometimes, when I’m poring over a newly arrived set of photographs on the computer in my home office at 6 a.m., or I’m huddled with a photographer and a superstar model on set past midnight with three more looks left to shoot, I feel at my most content. Through bougie Western eyes, this probably looks out of balance: I’m overworking at the expense of my personal life; I need to create boundaries, or whatever. But I’ve never seen work and life as truly separate. It’s not how I was raised. My parents were both hard workers; their careers were at the center of their lives. Even as they were surrounded by six kids and an endless extended family, nobody went hungry. And I’ve been my parents’ son since the day I was born.
In 1978, President Acheampong, who himself came to power in a coup, was overthrown in another coup by Frederick Akuffo, the head of his armed forces. Less than a year later, Jerry Rawlings, an Air Force lieutenant with a reformer’s streak, overthrew Akuffo, who was promptly executed. Corruption has been an issue in the country since before the Gold Coast became Ghana and banging on about it was an easy way for populist leaders such as Rawlings to gain support. For two years, a politically moderate civilian government was in charge and then Rawlings made another move and took over as head of the country in 1981. It started to become clear, little by little, that it wasn’t safe for us. With so many coups, people naturally belonged to different political families and our family was not part of Rawlings’s. That was enough. A cousin of my father’s, Colonel Joseph Enninful, had presided over the military trial in 1979 that convicted Rawlings of mutiny. Rawlings escaped justice and a few months later some of his supporters came to Joseph Enninful’s house and shot him and his wife dead at the breakfast table. Someone called our house when it happened. At first we thought they were talking about our father and we were terrified until we heard from him. Around the same time, the fathers of two of Mina’s friends at school were executed. Suddenly, we weren’t allowed to play outside as much and had to be home a lot more often. I was petrified to leave the house anyway and entertained myself in my little world in the atelier. Trips to Dolly Dots were now out of the question. It was hell on the older kids too. Anyone who was seen to be living too well was suddenly under suspicion. There was tension in the air that turned into something scarier. Nobody knew any more who was friendly and who wasn’t when you passed them in the street.
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