After several weeks apprenticing under Eric, I can honestly say that I have gained a true appreciation for his craft. He is able to eye an object, estimate measurements and quickly begin cutting and hammering wood into place to form the core structure of a coffin. I try my best to follow his instruction as best as I can and keep up with his fast pace of working. I came to Ghana with little woodworking knowledge, and the little knowledge that I had was based on the use of power tools, a skill which is rendered useless at the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop. Mastering the hand plane, hand saw, and chisel are the first steps to becoming a proficient coffin maker.
After chicken and rice for breakfast - Eric, Elias and I make our way to the small village Gomoa Eskuma to attend the funeral of Nana Mpamaprom. The village is out in full at 8:30 in the morning to remember the life of the village's chief. We meet Ofosu, the son of Nana Mpamaprom, who explains that I am free to photograph and make my way around the village as I wish and instructs me to say "I am friends with Ofosu" if anyone questions what I am doing there. I then meet Ofosu's sister, who lives in New Jersey and made the journey back to her hometown for her father's funeral. I then head out on my own, where for hours on end I have my camera out and am snapping away. All children are itching to have their picture taken. As for the adults, I get their attention and raise my camera slightly before either given a nod of approval or a please-leave-me-alone stare. I soon get so caught up in my own little paradise that I forget about the funeral festivities.
This is the cost of apprenticeship at Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop. It is the list of items to be given to the workshop during the initiation, and it is no small fee. In fact it is a huge undertaking for a young man in Ghana to acquire all of these goods and money. Sometimes the family or father supports his son so that he may become an apprentice, but many times it is a sum that has to be wholly raised by the perspective apprentice. The fee is to insure that a person is serious about becoming an apprentice. It would be a huge loss to a person to start apprenticing and drop out after raising all that money, or a huge disappointment to a family who invested such a large amount of money on their son only to find out it was for naught.
While the goat was being slaughtered, I was reminded of the old testament stories I had learned at sunday school as a child of how unblemished sheep were sacrificed to God. But is this goat being sacrificed God or to gods? Everything is very unfamiliar and a bit uncomfortable. What emotions am I suppose to be feeling as this goat's blood is gushing down my legs and over my feet onto the ground?
The origins of the Teshie people are from the Ga's, a tribe from Ilefe, Nigeria. Upon arrival of the Ga's there was a great famine, so it is believed that the Ga's managed to harvest a lot of maize and fish from the sea which were used to prepare a dish known as kpokpoi. A feast of the kpokpoi followed which started the tradition of the Homowo festival.
Elias, a former senior apprentice of the Kane Kwei Workshop, leads me through long alley ways and corridors deep within the slums of Teshie. I clutch the camera hanging around my neck very firmly. I am definitely on "the other side of the tracks". We begin to approach large hordes of people lining the streets. Guards armed with automatic guns are keeping the crowds off the street. Elias leads me down the middle of the street as if the crowds and guards weren't there.
The first thing that I am struck by while driving from Accra to Teshie is the vast number of churches lining the roads and the very small number of motorcycles and mopeds on the road; almost every vehicle is either a car or truck. Eric explains that having a motorcycle is considered dangerous and is frowned upon.
About a year ago I was at the annual furniture society conference at MIT. There were many speakers who spoke on a wide variety of techniques and experiences. One of the speakers, Oregon College of Arts and Crafts Professor, Michael DeForrest spoke about his apprenticeship in Ghana making coffins. But the coffins he showed in the powerpoint presentation weren't your typical coffins. The coffins were fantasy coffins; coffins in the shape of fish, coke bottles, hammers and cars.
Art Unlimited is a curated sector of the Art Basel exhibition that is comprised of Major projects [i.e.: installations], which are exhibited in a hall of its own, separate from the Art Basel gallery booths. Art Unlimited can be compared to many of the major Using biennials, however only galleries showing at Art Basel can submit project proposals, which are then narrowed down and selected by a curator. This year the curator is the Geneva-based curator, Simon Lamuniere.
I spent an entire day perusing the multiple lighting sections at the The Milan Fair and one day was only enough time to speed through booths. Living in the States, especially in South Carolina, it is hard to find truly unique and well designed lighting. Needless to say, I was completely captivated by the lighting offerings by the European Market.