Home Institution

Cleveland Institute of Art

Publication Date

Fall 2013

Program Name

Ghana: Social Transformation and Cultural Expression



i. Discuss the history of Adinkra textiles and its processes.

ii. Establish the origin and significance of Adinkra symbols.

iii. Situate the Adinkra symbols within Abstraction and examine its narrative potential as a non-discursive mode of communication in drawing.

iv. Create iconography to be in dialog with Adinkra symbols as part of a constructed narrative.

Methodology: I utilized the three key principles of methodological research – participation, observation, and interview in order to have direct experience with Adinkra cloth processes. I felt that this was necessary in order to effectively make sense of and analyze Adinkra symbols. I interviewed several members of the Boakye family who operate an Adinkra cloth studio in Ntonso regarding their practice of dyeing and stamping (printing); and spoke at length with them about the history of Adinkra symbols and cloth production, its significance to the Asante people and their family’s role in preserving these traditions. Moreover, I interviewed citizens in the Kumasi suburb Asokwa, which had previously been thought to be the locus of the Kuntunkuni dyeing, an important aspect of Adinkra cloth production. I apprenticed with Mamey Boakye, a master Adinkra cloth dyer; Gabriel and Peter Boakye who are both master Adinkra symbol printers; and Paul Boakye a master carver for a total of 3 weeks to learn traditional Adinkra techniques, with the goal of making finished works; including carved symbols based on my own imagery. This allowed me to potentially construct my own narrative, since I would be making drawings for analysis and comparison to Adinkra symbols. As part of my research, I photographed, scanned, and enlarged the drawings and the symbols themselves to study the space in and around the lines of the forms. By isolating and enlarging portions of the symbols and drawings, I was able to proffer other ways of seeing and interpreting meaning from them.

Findings: Isolating portions of the Adinkra symbols proved to be a worthwhile endeavor, as they opened themselves up to closer inspection. The circle, semi circle, oval, triangle, squares and rectangles, and other geometric and abstract forms are fundamental to Adinkra symbolism. The Adinkra symbols themselves are expansive in meaning without compromising any of its relevance or power. The symbols enrich, affirm, and communicate a complex set of narratives around ritual, tradition, beliefs, and codes of existence. I chose to focus on the Adinkra symbols mate masie, sunsum, and nkyinkyim. I selected these for their personal resonance in conjunction with my own drawings for constructing a narrative. The visual coherence of the traditional Adinkra symbols actually help to ground elements of the finished narrative works.

Conclusion: My drawings are a way of negotiating meaning. Continued reflection and analysis of narrative cohesiveness in the imagery are necessary for discerning if the work is resolved.


Art and Design | Civic and Community Engagement | Other History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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