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6 / Death

Eagle Coffin
Eagle Coffin
Artist / Origin Workshop of Kane Quaye, Teshe, Ghana
Region: Africa
Date 1991
Material Painted wood
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 51 in. (129.5 cm.), W: 52 ½ in. (133.3 cm.), L: 106 in. (269.2 cm.)
Location The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Credit Courtesy of The Newark Museum

expert perspective

Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

Eagle Coffin

» Workshop of Kane Quaye, Teshe, Ghana

expert perspective

Christa Clarke Christa Clarke Senior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

‘Fantasy coffins’ are produced in southern Ghana. They are made in very elaborate forms that are meaningful to the deceased and the deceased’s life—the person’s achievements in life, the person’s status in society. They take the shape of, for instance, an eagle, which could refer to a person’s leadership position. Sometimes they reference the person’s livelihood. You see sacks of flour; you see coffins in the shape of cell phones.

The idea of creating an amazing fantastic coffin that then goes off public view because it’s buried really is one of the ways that reinforces the differences between the way art is thought of in African societies, and maybe perhaps other non-Western societies, than in Western societies. There’s not as great a focus on the idea of art being necessarily a permanent object meant to be on public display. There’s a saying that art is a verb in Africa, and you see that through performance, you see that through the use of an object. The process, for instance, is as important as what is created. And there’s just not the same sense of an object being created to be a permanent part of society. You might see monumental forms of African art, but often they are left to the environment and are then destroyed. There’s a much more ephemeral nature to a lot of African art.

I don’t think that the ‘fantasy coffins’ are necessarily viewed as humorous—lively, visually engaging, certainly. I think that often because they have been displayed in the Western world, and they are often received by Westerners visually in the context of Pop Art, which is really not what they're about in an African context. They are quite woven into the fabric of life and meant to be very dramatic because it is one of the ways of honoring an important individual and suggesting their place in society.” 

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