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L. Pescador, 1995




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Techniques and meaning


The Asafo flags with their representations are one of the rare forms of the African Tribal Art which is based on figurative pictorial composition. In the making of the flags, in fact, techniques and methods from the art of painting are used. The significant elements in the flags, which are mirror "paintings" on the reverse face, are assumed by the role of the figures, the colors used and their association. All these elements are integrated into and interact with the environment for which these flags were created.

A typical Asafo flag is made with a rectangle of material measuring 80 to 120 centimeters by 100 to 200 centimeters. The top left or right hand corner is occupied by a representation of the British ‘Union Jack’ (photo 23) or the national flag of Ghana. The central field is used for applying symbolic and allegorical figures mirrored front and back created in fabric from cardboard templates, (photo 24 and 25). The flags are usually with a decorative linear border or geometric designs in diverse colors to which might also be applied a decorative fringe.

With respect to these characteristics, we find numerous variations including, for example: the omission of the border or the national flag, the representation of images using painting techniques, the central area created with various colors and different types of material and so on.




For the major part, the material used to make the flags is cotton but sometimes silk or felt is used. The materials employed were mainly imported from India, Japan, Great Britain and also from Italy. The choice of colors to use for the background was not casual as each company had its own special color.

The oldest flags were sewn by hand both when putting together the various parts and applying the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic elements of the mirror images which represent proverbs or traditional scenes. The chain stitching technique was functional in terms of embroidering the details of the allegorical figures.

 In the first decades of the 20th century, some artist began to use the sewing machine which, in the mean time, had arrived in Ghana and made its use into a personal artistic characteristic. In any case, apart from these isolated examples, the flags made up on the sewing machine have been made more recently.

After independence was achieved in 1957, the national flag of Ghana replaced the ‘Union Jack’ but flags continued to be produced with the Union Jack. This was probably in memory of past glories or to produce copies of old, worn out flags.

The Asafo flags are normally allegorical representations of proverbs, metaphors, maxims and traditions connected with the Akan culture which, were traditionally handed down orally. These proverbs play a fundamental role and are a structural part of the social reality of the Akan (photo 26).

Sometimes, the flags were made in remembrance of a relevant event which happened in a certain village and in this case there is no connection to a proverb. This highlights the fact that some flags when removed from their specific context cannot be interpreted unless one is in possession of the fundamental elements necessary for an accurate analysis of the events which took place.




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