Image: Asafo flag, post independence (after 1957).
Only in the past decade, has the art market begun to acknowledge the extent to which many of the great masterpieces of African sculpture emerged from periods of turmoil, consequent to the growing incursions of European powers into Africa. The Asafo flags of the Fante people of western Ghana are the quintessential hybrid artefacts of this centuries-long engagement. Influenced by European naval ensigns and national flags, the form became the vessel for an exploration of local values and indigenous artistic creativity.
A new online exhibition, a continuation of the Karun Collection’s 2019 exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies in London, presents over 250 examples of Asafo flags.
Asafo means ‘war people’, the name given to military associations throughout the large area of west and central Ghana, occupied by peoples of the Akan language group, including the Asante and the Fante. Asafo flags are appliqué and embroidery decorated cloth banners, used by these village-based militia groups. Produced by specialist artists, they are among the most vivid and accessible of African art traditions.
Asafo flags are paraded through the fishing villages and towns of the Fante region, in a vibrant tradition that depicts a cast of characters, blending local mythology with European heraldry. Kings and queens interact with soldiers and musicians, dragons and gryphons, elephants and leopards, whales and sharks, ships, trains and aeroplanes.
The exhibition, which includes examples from the 19th century - 1970s, is curated from the collection of Kuran Thakar, who began collecting Asafo flags in mid-1990’s, during various trips to Ghana. Kuran has since added pieces acquired in US and Europe to his collection and, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, began sharing this collection online.
Image: Asafo flag, early (19th century to circa 1900).
For more information, and to explore the exhibition, visit www.karuncollections.com.
Images courtesy of the Karun Collection.