• Paa-joe-i
  • Paa-joe-ii
  • Paa-joe-iii
  • Paa-joe-iv
  • Paa-joe-v
Art

Paa Joe: Taking it with you

Posted by Bryony Quinn,

Tonight sees the opening of a very special exhibition of sculpted coffins by the Ghanian artist Paa Joe at the Jack Bell Gallery. The wood-carved and painted caskets are all at once contemporary, ritualistic and traditional pieces of West African art. They are attestations of life for the body they bear – ambition, personality or trade are all hewn by the hands and imagination of Paa Joe. By western standards they appear kitsch but the exhibits tell important stories of tribal burial rituals and appear as if full of joy. We spoke to the Jack of Jack Bell Gallery to find out more about him and Paa Joe…

Hello Jack, can you tell us briefly about how you came to have a space all of your own?

I graduated from the MA program at Courtauld Institute of Art before moving to the Timothy Taylor Gallery for three years. In february 2010 I teamed up with a handful of other young people working for West End dealers. We got hold of a five story building in Victoria and carved it up between us. We all share a focus in contemporary art but with different angles.

Is there a particular nature to the artists and art that you exhibit?

I had always been interested in contemporary African art – I liked the stable of artists nurtured by André Magnin, a French curator and dealer. I was excited by the collection of contemporary African art put together by Pigozzi. I had followed these artists since I was given a catalogue to the seminal 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at Pompidou in Paris. The show tried to counter the trend the artworld was taking whereby 100% of exhibitions ignored 80% of the world. It was truly groundbreaking in its global perspective.

Since February, the shows I’ve been working on have encompassed new art from Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Haiti, Benin, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Who is Paa Joe? Where did you come across him and how did you go about bringing the work to your gallery?

The current show is a solo selling exhibition of sculpted coffins by the Ghanaian artist Paa Joe. Paa Joe lives and works just outside the capital Accra. Since the sixties, he has been creating custom made coffins that blur the line between art and craft. His coffins reflect the ambition or the trade of the person for whom they were made. They are incredibly upbeat – not dead things but rather manifestations of and affirmations of life.

I first became aware of this practice through the catalogue to the 1989 Pompidou exhibition, entitled Magiciens de la Terre. I loved the way the works were wholly African and functioned as contemporary embodiments of traditional tribal burial rituals and art practice. In contemporary Western art practice they recalled Jeff Koons. The coffins are incredibly kitsch. Paa Joe, like Koons, plays with scale and with a work like the Jet, with material and commercial ostentation.

Paa Joe I became aware of through two pieces currently on permanent display at the British Museum. I went over to Ghana to meet with several coffin artists – To me, Paa Joe’s work stood out head and shoulders above the rest. We spent a couple of weeks meeting and discussing what sort of work he was producing for local funeral ceremonies at the time. Through the exhibition I intended to show the scope of his practice. The four works on display are all iconic symbols of local life. The golden African eagle, fish, Air Ghana jet, and Cocoa pod are testament to the vibrancy of West African culture.

Paa Joe was born in the Akwapim hills north-east of Accra in 1945. 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. Two of the works from this exhibition pre-sold to museums.

Portrait9

Posted by Bryony Quinn

Bryony was It’s Nice That’s first ever intern and worked her way up to assistant online editor before moving on to pursue other interests in the summer of 2012.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. List

    I have no idea who Mr G.G.Hines is. And yet I am standing surrounded by junk staring at his black leather passport holder. I am transfixed by it; lost in reveries about who he was, where he travelled to and what his handwriting – neat, confident but not fussy – says about him. I am also wondering how his passport came to be here, and the answer to that begins with Dan Tobin Smith.

  2. List

    Three years ago at the London Design Festival, the Bouroullec Brothers transformed the Raphael Cartoons gallery at the V&A by installing a huge textile-covered platform down the centre of the vast room. It became a playful, very human space in the heart of one of London’s most august institutions, and remains one of the most talked-about festival projects of recent years.

  3. Main

    GIFs are usually reserved for that corner of the internet preoccupied with getting a quick laugh out of an easy audience (us included) so it’s surprisingly poignant to see the popular form employed not to show how funny a dog walking on its hind legs can be but to express a more powerful idea. This is exactly what Sofia Niazi has done with her new project Women of WOT. She wanted to utilise the medium to tell the unheard stories of the women forgotten by the War on Terror, but soon found that her project took a unexpected turn.

  4. Main9

    Just when you thought the only time you’d get to see some fruit getting jiggy with each other was the last time you ate a Moam bar, here’s Amelie von Wulffen’s paintings. Amelie’s work is a refreshing, sometimes sinister, sometimes sexual series of water-colour paintings depicting a strange mixture of food and tools interacting with each other as if they were humans – eating ice cream and going to music concerts and the like. As well as reducing mankind down to what it really is – a bunch of ridiculous creatures bumbling around the earth – Amelie’s real success here is bringing dark comedy into the largely unfunny art world, and for that she should be praised.

  5. List

    We’ve long maintained that to really get to know how a creative’s mind works, it’s best to explore their personal work, which often tells you much more than their professional portfolio. Another good example of this comes from London-based identity designer Iancu Barbarasa, who works under the name Iancul, and his terrific new Drawriting project, which “turns thoughts and their letters into visual puzzles.”

  6. Main9

    Co-founders of Dastoli Digital Robert and James were huge fans of Star Wars in the late 1990s, recreating hundreds of images from comics, books and game graphics on Microsoft Paintbrush using the Windows 3.1 operating system. In the run-up to the release of Star Wars Episode VII which will come out on 18 December 2015 they’re releasing an image a day from this seemingly bottomless archive, giving fellow fans a glimpse of their fantastic attention to detail and brilliantly retro colour palette.

  7. List-2

    Anna Valdez is the kind of artist who makes me want to swathe myself and everything around me in layers of tropical prints and geometric patterns and embrace a new sartorial existence as a wannabe art teacher. Her mastery of textiles is so thorough that some of her pieces almost feel like studies, an effect which makes sense considering her academic interests. With a background in anthropology she paints domestic interiors as though they were portraits, with every detail contributing to the overall effect, whether it be house plants, intricately reproduced book covers, woolly jumpers or oriental rugs.

  8. List

    Australian artist Kit Webster is has long been fascinated with the emotional and psychological tricks he can play through the manipulation of sound and light. His new piece Hypercube is a concentric cubic sculpture with a 120-metre LED set-up that can be controlled using specially-created software. The pre-recorded cycles allow Kit to control the viewer’s experience, speeding the cube up to a frenzy and breaking the tension with meditative moments of calm.

  9. Main

    Apologies if this is a slightly dismayed post, but upon thinking I had stumbled across a gem via Nieves’ announcement of some new zines I was excited to be the first to write about Keegan McHargue on It’s Nice That. Alas I was not, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t shout about his brilliance once more.

  10. List

    When I was a teenager I’d have given my right arm for patches emblazoned with the lyrics of my favourite songs. It was the height of cool to be covered in brightly-coloured band paraphernalia (or at least I thought so). German artist Selma Alaçam clearly thought so too as her latest project Heartstrings combines some of her favourite song lyrics from the likes of Fiona Apple and Depeche Mode. The seven woven rugs – based on the traditional kelim, native to Turkey – have been hand-embroidered with bold typographic verses, whose personal importance is known only to the artist. To the rest of us these embroideries are like beautifully ambiguous album covers, enticing you in with their bright, bold colours.

  11. List

    It’s plain to see that Lee Marshall’s artwork is a product of the digital age; his smooth gradients, vectorised objects and figures apparently created in an early version of Corel Draw all evoke the atmosphere of an abstract digital landscape. But Lee’s creations all exist in the real world as paintings, drawings and sculptures, bringing a unique physicality to environments we’d expect to experience on a flat screen. The Norwich School of Art graduate has been perfecting this signature style since his student days, but with an ever-increasing list of group and solo shows to his name we’re expecting more great things from Lee over the coming months and years.

  12. List

    Let’s all give a big round of applause to the people behind Instagram who, in creating a convenient photo-based social media outlet, also paved the way for Instagram artists. If Instagram is the Impressionist salon of our time, then right at the forefront of this digital gallery is Kalen Hollomon, whose own brand of photo-collage is a tongue-in-cheek giggle at both the fashion industry and at commuters in general, and is hugely popular with it.

  13. List

    It’s fair to say that Interview magazine, founded by Andy Warhol in 1969, had some serious sway over popular culture throughout the 1970s and 80s. With its pop art-driven aesthetic and its constant pursuit of features with the superstars of the day it has grown to occupy seminal status. And this is due in no small part to Richard Bernstein, the artist behind the publication’s iconic cover imagery.