The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Architecture in Northern Ghana

by Fred T. Smith
Kent State University

Painted exterior wall of a Frafra home, northern Ghana. Photo by Fred T. Smith, 1973.


Frafra wall painting is largely non-figurative, rectilinear, and symmetrical. The most common decorative scheme is the repetition of a single motif or pattern within a horizontal or sometimes vertical register. Frequently, the wall is divided into two horizontal registers separated by a narrow band or by a particular motif called yidoor, consisting of a series of painted and/or incised parallel lines. Overall, there are approximately seventeen widely recognized and commonly used motifs. However among the Frafra of northern Ghana, there is also a recognition of creative ability as well as a mastery of technique and style.  Frafra wall painting exhibits highly creative and individualistic treatment. One woman, for example, placed a fairly standard tana or "cloth strip" design on the upper part of her wall; yet she covered the rest of the wall with a curvilinear and segmented variant of tana.