Eleanor Humphrey: Ghanaian Asafo Flags
Image Credit: Artist working on an Asafo flag https://www.asafoflags.com/
Antique textiles from Asia and Africa have always been a major area of interest for Textile Collector, Karun Thakar. His childhood passion for collecting has, after 40 years, resulted in an eclectic and highly personal collection, which speaks to his particular interest in the people and places behind the objects themselves. Now, following his exhibition of African Textiles at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies in 2019, Thakar is sharing a collection of over 200 Ghanian Asafo flags which are available to view, free of charge, on the Karun Thakar website.
The Asafo flags, created by Fante village-based militia groups throughout west and central Ghana demonstrate the rich indigenous artistic creativity that emerged from the turmoil of incursions of European powers into Africa. Appliqued and embroidered on cloth banners by local specialist artists, the appropriation of naval ensigns and national flags of colonising nations in many of the designs creates a fascinating paradox, where the authority of the colonisers is subverted to assert power, local values and histories. Appliqued dragons and gryphons, kings and queens cavort with elephants and leopards in a blend of local mythology and European heraldic motifs.
Image credit: Example of a 'Early' (19th century to circa 1900) Asafo flag © Karun Thakur
Grouped into three broad sections, the Asafo flags collection is accompanied by an essay written by Duncan Clarke, to convey links between the development of visual imagery and Ghana’s historical narrative: ‘Early’, roughly pre-1910; between 1910 and Ghanaian Independence in 1957; and post-1957. The curated groupings highlight the growth and demise of particular visual elements – the Union Jack canton, sometimes reduced to small colours and shapes in early flags, then becomes larger and increasingly elaborate, accompanied by decorative, dynamic borders post-1910, before being replaced by the Black Star Flag, and a prevalence of text due to increasing literacy, after Ghana became independent in 1957. The cultural significance of Asafo flags stands strong today and they remain an important part of communal life in Fante villages.
Image credit: Close-up of an 'Early' (19th century to circa 1900) Asafo flag © Karun Thakur
The collection contains numerous damaged and fragmentary flags which were collected during one of Thakar’s earliest collecting visits to Ghana. For the online exhibition, these flags have been digitally restored in a fascinating example of digital conservation to provide a more complete viewing experience for visitors.
To view the online exhibition, please visit the Karun Collection website.