Design coffins from Ghana

From October 2 until January 3, 2015

 They are colourful. They are fanciful. They are spectacular. And they are used for burying the dead. The Ghanaian design coffins – or fantasy coffins – have become a phenomenon that attracts attention all over the world. Many museums of anthropology display the amazing coffins in their collections. At British Museum, two of these coffins hold prominent places in the ethnographic exhibition. And justly so, because the coffins bridge the gap between polar opposites: between life and death, between tradition and change, between past, present and future.

The coffins are made by the Ghanaian artist and coffin maker Eric Anang at his workshop in the town of Teshie. The coffins are exhibited along with photos of two Ghanaian burials. The photos are by the Danish photographer Klaus Bo, who has documented burial rituals around the world.

A personal coffin honors the deceased

The way the coffin is designed is an immediate reflection of the life and status of the deceased. A fisherman will choose to be buried in a coffin shaped like a fish; a truck driver in a truck; a soap manufacturer in a piece of soap. In the 1950s, Ghanaian coffin makers began experimenting for real with the shapes and expressions of their coffins. Since then, design coffins have become popular in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where several workshops now produce design coffins.

At ethnographic museums and research institutes in Europe and the United States, the Ghanaian coffin makers are in demand. The coffins are an example of how a local tradition changes and evolves. Traditions change all the time; they are challenged, resist, and change. Thus, the fanciful coffins tell the story of local traditions that receive attention from afar; a story of globalization.

Workshop and competition

Eric Anang particitpates in a workshop in the exhibition room at Moesgaard Museum from Saturday October 17 until Friday October 23. He, his apprentice (and brother, Reginald) and Moesgaard’s own carpenter, Erik Droob will build a new coffin from scratch. Visitors will be able to witness the process of building a coffin from A to Z – from a few pieces of wood to a spectacular coffin – and to talk to the coffin builders and learn more about this Ghanaian tradition. The workshop is funded by CKU – Centre for Culture and Development.