The Life of Akan Arts

The Life of Akan Arts

Southern Akan, Nsodie (Commemorative royal portrait head), 17th–19th century, Terracotta, Gift of John J. and Halina Klejman 1984.7

Between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, Akan arts served vital, often daily purposes. The term “Akan” encompasses several ethnic groups living in present-day southern Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, including Asante, Baule, Fante, and Brong. The selection of Akan arts on display from the Davis Museum’s collections once manifested spirits, displayed political power, and paid homage to the deceased. A verbal element is inherent in many of the works as proverbs, names, historical events, and stories.

This tour will show you a variety of objects that vary in material, production, style, and purpose. They address many aspects of human life: from birth to death, and many events in between. You are also encouraged to learn words and phrases from the Akan languages Twi, spoken by the Asante, and Baule, spoken by the Baule. Understanding the language of a culture is an essential part of appreciating the significance of its artworks. The Life of Akan Arts tour examines visual and verbal artistic traditions that existed in ancient Akan societies, several of which continue to live on today.

This tour was developed by 2018 DeLorme Curatorial Intern Sumurye Awani ’18.

Special Acknowledgements to Selinam Setranah and Denzel Osei Oppong, both final year students at the University of Ghana-Legon, for their assistance with Twi translations.