ELOÏSE PTITO - Karun Thakar's Asafo Flag Exhibit
Images Courtesy of Karun Thakar.
Collector Karun Thakar has decided to continue where his African Textiles exhibition at the Brunei Gallery in London (1/10/19 to 14/12/19) last left off and to keep sharing his vast collection of Asafo flags in a new online show. Given the circumstances of the current pandemic, the show is featured on his website and includes 250 flags, many of which were acquired in the mid 90’s during Thakar’s first collecting trips to western Ghana. Initially discovering that local dealers repurposed older flags to repair newer ones, numerous fragmented flags have since been salvaged and included. In a unique experiment, they have also been digitally restored for the exhibition, providing an essential historical perspective to visitors who may have only been familiar with later flags of the 1950s.
Translating to ‘war people’, the ‘Asafo' flags of the Fante people of western Ghana are boldly appliquéd and embroidered cloth banners used by various village-based militia groups. The practice is said to have originated from the people of the Akan language group, including the Asante and the Fante, who lived along the Central Region of Ghana's coast. Remaining in contact with Europeans for over 500 years, the flags were created by specialist artists and now serve as a textile-centric artefact that ingeniously borrows from European national flags.
Since the construction of the first major European settlement (São Jorge da Mina) in 1492, the Fante Asafo groups became intermediaries between slavers and Asante peoples over the following centuries. As a result, they developed impressive flags that asserted power over rivals and expressed local values through the proverbs of Akan culture.
The collection has been divided into three sections;
1. 19th century and early 1900’s
2. 1920’s to 1957, Ghana’s Independence
3. 1957 to 1970’s