What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? Empire State Building Fantasy Coffin

Fantasy coffinsabebuu adekai or “proverb boxes” in the Ga language – are wooden coffins carved and decorated to look like an animal or object with particular significance to the deceased, reflecting aspirations (luxury cars, airplanes), careers (corn for a farmer, pen for a writer), hobbies (sneakers, guitars), or position (lions and eagles for community leaders). They originated with the ceremonial palanquins used by chiefs of the Ga ethnic group.

In the 1950s, a chief who had made a fortune in cocoa processing was buried in his cocoa bean-shaped palanquin. This inspired local furniture maker Seth Kane Kwei to build an airplane-shaped coffin for his grandmother, who loved watching airplanes and dreamed of flying in one.¬†Symbolic coffins were rapidly incorporated into Ga funeral tradition, and became popular throughout Ghana. Kane Kwei’s work became known worldwide, and turned abebuu adekai into a highly sought-after export, when it was featured in a 1989 exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris.

This Empire State Building-shaped wooden coffin, constructed and painted by Ghanaian coffin artist Eric Kpakpo Adotey, is on loan to the City Reliquary from its owner, Sarah Murray. Ms. Murray (who is still living; this is an unoccupied coffin) commissioned this coffin to represent her life with a symbol of great meaning to her: her favorite architectural work and an icon of the city she always aspired to, and now does, live in.

Read more about this work at Untapped Cities!

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