Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

by Robert Soppelsa
US State Department / Art in Embassies (formerly Washburn University)

Kwahu peoples, Ghana. Funeral Figures. Photo by Roy Sieber.

This photograph, made in the 1960s, shows a commemorative terracotta portrait of a priest from the Kwahu area in Ghana.  Here, the dark varnish that is often mentioned in descriptions of terracottas is very apparent, as is the use of small auxiliary figures. The main figure is in the flat, discoid style that is typical of the Kwahu area. All the figures are placed on asipim chairs, reduced-scale interpretations of European Renaissance chairs that were first brought to the west African coast by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. Chairs like these are emblems of wealth and high prestige, and their use in this context indicates the status of the person whose funeral is being celebrated.