Art Paa Joe’s fantasy coffins arrive in New York

Paa Joe’s fantasy coffins arrive in New York

Giorgia Massari
paa joe |

His debut in the international contemporary art world was in 1989, when his body of bare fantasy works was first exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. We are talking about the Ghanaian artist Paa Joe (1947), born Joseph Tetteh-Ashonga, one of the most important artists of his generation who carries on a very important Ghanaian artistic tradition, especially in the capital. In Ghana, figurative coffins are a widespread funerary practice. They are known as abeduu adeka – which literally means boxes of proverbs – and are actual funerary coffins customized from the deceased, his interests, his work, and on his personality. The purpose is to celebrate the life of the deceased, and during the funeral celebration the coffin is paraded throughout the city. The abeduu adeka, handmade in one-of-a-kind pieces, are true large-scale sculptures representing inanimate objects dear to the deceased or representative in that sense. For example, an onion for a farmer or, as in Paa Joe’s works, you can also see a cab or even a Nike Air Jordan. Paa Joe was able to take a contemporary look at this folk craft tradition and turn it into pop art, conquering the international scene. After the Paris exhibition, Paa Joe’s works entered several permanent collections, including that of the British Museum in London, and a few days ago – on March 13 – he made his New York debut at the Super House gallery’s new venue, relocated to 120 Walker Street.

Celestial City, Paa Joe’s New York-themed coffins

Celestial City is the title of Paa Joe’s new solo exhibition in New York, open until April 27 and all New York-themed. The Ghanaian artist’s practice, beginning with his first international exhibitions, has evolved in an increasingly pop direction, and this exhibition is the clearest evidence of that. Wilson’s basketball, a subway rat, a garbage can, these are some of the bare-sculptures Paa Joe has made looking at New York and its most distinctive elements, which is why he could not miss the iconic yellow cab and the Statue of Liberty. As his practice has evolved, the works have taken on different dimensions, sometimes deviating from coffin size and adopting smaller sizes, but always strictly with a lid and container space. One of the most interesting elements of the exhibition is the Ketchup Heinz coffin, which is reminiscent of Egyptian sarcophagi in its shape and upright position but, at the same time, inevitably harks back to a strongly pop language launched by Andy Warhol with his canvases depicting Campbell’s Soup.

Do Paa Joe’s works all end up in the ground?

A bittersweet aspect of Paa Joe’s art practice is the epilogue of his creations. Being utilitarian works, the fantasy coffins are destined for burial underground. «I don’t feel too comfortable when I see them go underground,» Paa Joe said a few years ago in an interview in the New York Post. But that is not always the case. As his practice has evolved and he has definitively entered the contemporary art circuit, his creations are not all destined for the same “painful” end, but rather, as we mentioned above, are now part of some of the most prestigious permanent collections internationally, including that of the British Museum in London, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Superhouse Gallery (@super___house)

Today Paa Joe is seventy-seven years old and is passing on this tradition to his son Jacob. In an interview with the Guardian, the artist explains the importance of this practice, because according to him-these customized coffins have the ability to remind people that life continues after death and that «the dead will have a life in the afterlife and it’s important that they go there in style

Ph Credits Brian Ferry, Luis Corzo
Courtesy Joseph Tetteh-Ashonga & Super House

Written by Giorgia Massari
Listen on