Ghana’s Paa Joe: The Extraordinary Coffin Maker

Paa Joe's coffins

Lion-shaped coffin at Paa Joe’s coffin shop in Teshie, outside Accra, Ghana.

Paa Joe (with family the name Joseph Ashong) is a Ghanaian figurative palanquin and fantasy coffin artist born 1947 in the region Akwapim belonging to the Ga-Adangbe people, Greater Accra Region of Ghana. Paa Joe is considered one of the most important Ghanaian coffin artist of his generation.

He was involved since 1989 in major art exhibitions in Europe, Japan, and the USA. His fantasy coffins are in the collections of many art museums worldwide, including the British Museum in London.

If Ghana is one of the leading countries in the world for Cocoa production, then Paa Joe can make cocoa pod coffin.

At 15, Paa Joe started  his ten-year apprenticeship as a coffin artist in the workshop of one called Kane Kwei (1924–1992) in Teshie. Then in 1976, he started his own business at Nungua.

Paa Joe’s experience and mastery over his works attracted a number of people to be trained as fantasy coffin artists. In 2007, he moved his workshop from Nungua to Pobiman, in the  Greater Accra region, where he still works with his two sons Jacob and Isaac. His work is now internationally known, enabling him to visit Britain in 2013.

The sculptor and artist: Joseph Ashong (Paa Joe)

 

Paa Joe’s sculpted coffins blur the line between art and craft. Each work is carefully constructed to reflect the ambition or the trade of the person for whom it was made. They are not dead things but are instead a manifestation of and indeed an affirmation of life. The works are wholly African and are a contemporary embodiment of traditional tribal burial rituals and art practice. They link back to pre-colonial West African sculpture but also recall the pomp and extravagance of ancient Egyptian royal tombs. In contemporary Western art

The works are wholly African and are a contemporary embodiment of traditional tribal burial rituals and art practice. They link back to pre-colonial West African sculpture but also recall the pomp and extravagance of ancient Egyptian royal tombs. In contemporary Western art practice, the coffins recall Jeff Koons.

They too are kitsch – Paa Joe, like Koons, plays with scale and with a work like the Jet, with material and commercial ostentation. The foremost sculpted coffin maker of his generation, Paa Joe apprenticed with Kane Kwei – who is credited with beginning the 20th-century tradition of figurative coffins. Paa Joe’s work is held in museum collections around the world including the British Museum in London.

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