All images © Karun Thakar Collection
The Karun Collection is currently exhibiting an online collection of over 250 Asafo flags of Ghana. These select items are a continuation of the Karun Collection’s 2019 African Textiles exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Given the current pandemic, Karun Thakar has generously continued to share more items from his African collection online.
Karun began to collect Asafo flags in the 1990s during various trips to Ghana. While searching for completed examples, he encountered local dealers cutting up older Asafo flags to repair newer models. Recognizing the historical importance of these early fragments, Karun expanded his collection to 'fill in the blanks' of this material tradition. In a unique experiment, these fragments of early Asafo flags have been digitally restored and repaired to provide the viewer a more complete visual experience.
The Asafo flags of the Fante people of western Ghana are the quintessential hybrid artefacts of the centuries-long engagement with European colonial powers. Appropriated from European naval ensigns and national flags, the flags acted as an exploration of local values and artistic creativity. The flags are appliqué- and embroidery-decorated cloth banners that depict various symbols blending local mythology with European heraldry–kings and queens, lions and leopards, trains and aeroplanes. These flags, locally called frankaa, were paraded amongst rival militia groups to assert power, challenge rivals, and express local values through proverbs and recollections of historical events.
This collection is remarkable for its valorisation of African art traditions produced during the colonial era. The art world’s romanticization of precolonial African art as more “pure” tends to discredit the creativity and artistry that continued despite the turmoil of European conquest.
The Karun Collections’ current online exhibition is available for viewing at http://www.karuncollection.com/exhibitions/. To learn more about the history of Asafo flags in Ghana, read Duncan Clarke's article for the exhibition, Proverbs on Parade.