The buried treasures of the Ga
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Some fifty years ago, the Ga of southern Ghana invented a new type of coffin, made in the shape of animals, fruits or status symbols. Such coffins have since been exhibited in many museums in the West. Regula Tschumi decided to investigate the origins of this figurative coffin art. During several visits to Ghana, she studied the symbolism of the representational coffins and the meaning of the statuettes sometimes attached to them. She examined manufacturing techniques and working conditions at first hand in the workshop of a leading coffin-maker. Exploring the artistic and socio-cultural context of the imagery used for the coffins, she arrived at some surprising conclusions. She disproves the widespread assumption that figurative coffins have no basis in tradition, linking the coffin statuettes to earlier terracotta figures and to the ntan sculptures of the Akan. Repeatedly allowed to attend funerals herself, she shows how the coffins relate to ancient Ga beliefs and burial rites. Not least, with the help of photographs and published illustrations, Tschumi establishes that previous accounts of the invention of the coffins and their attribution to individual artists are false. She thus addresses major issues concerning the strategies pursued by the Western art market and approaches to contemporary African art in the West.
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