Asafo Fante Flags

27 March - 06 May 2009

Asafo 'companies' originated in Ghana several centuries ago as military organizations. Inspired by European flags (hence the presence of the 'Union Jack' on most examples made before Ghana won independence in 1957), they were paraded in front of their rivals by company members who danced, sang, and declaimed their strength and superiority. The flags, also known as 'frankaa', were emblems of power. These days the parades and gatherings continue, but usually with less aggression, and the 'frankaa' are made, but with more decorative intent.

The simple motifs on the flags, shared by different companies, are often inspired by proverbs or stories. The actual meaning of the imagery is normally ambiguous. The eight examples in this exhibition have been used and have some age, but although they are worn they are unlikely to be more than sixty years old. As vernacular designs they have extraordinary vitality, energy, and often have a wry sense of humour.