Exhibition: Asafo Flags from Ghana

Mingei International Museum - Asafo Flags from Ghana

Exhibition dates: 6 February – 10 July 2016

This exhibition features thirty-six flags from the West African country of Ghana. A recent donation to Mingei International Museum (USA), these colourful flags dating to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries feature graphic folk imagery and appliquéd designs on solid cotton grounds. They were commissioned by military organisations known as Asafo, or ‘companies’, whose primary role was to exert power, exercise political influence and maintain codes of conduct within Fante communities. Smaller towns had at least one company, and larger towns up to fourteen. Verbal proverbs are given imaginative visual form on the flags, in which messages and customs are remembered and oral traditions are preserved.

Asafo flags are displayed at funerals, annual festivals and other ceremonial occasions, where they adorn central shrines and are paraded and waved through villages and towns. Intense rivalry among companies once led to violent confrontations, but today this is channeled into peaceful competitions. Colonial influence can be noted in these flags, derived in part from the display of European flags in the region; indeed, the British Union Jack appears on flags created before Ghana gained its independence in 1957.

For more information, visit the website of the Mingei International Museum, San Diego, California, USA.

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