“What is really important about this work is that it was done two hundred years ago, and if you go to the yam festival now it hasn’t changed much,” said Zakhem, who has lived in Accra for 14 years. “The costumes are still the same.”
Donkor worked on his painting for four months in a temporary studio created by Zakhem in an empty mall being constructed opposite the Kempinski Hotel. “It was impossible to find a large studio space for him to work,” laughed Zakhem. He further transformed a retail shell into a white cube to showcase Donkor’s work, which included three additional portraits of Ashanti war captains, ten new collages and a stool, which Donkor covered in his signature gold leaf. The stool is a royal symbol and sacred representation of the Ashanti nation.
“Collectors here believe there is a lack of African history portrayed in the art world,” said Zakhem, whose gallery represents the young realist painter Jeremiah Quarshie. His most recent work depicts historical Ashanti rulers.
Donkor’s interest in depicting Ashanti culture is far older. When he first discussed his ideas with Zakhem, he described his wish to scale-up Bowdich’s engraving as a “dream job” that he had been deferring for decades.
“I immediately said, ‘Let’s do it!’ I knew it would be something special. One of the reasons for establishing the gallery was to have shows like this, to show the world and Ghanaians that it is possible to do this here in Accra. Thankfully he accepted.”
Paa Joe and Elisabeth Efua Sutherland’s One Does Not Take It Anywhere opens on 21 November at Gallery 1957, Accra, and runs until 12 January 2018.