How To with arts & crafts in Accra
WELCOME TO GHANA !
How To with arts & crafts in Accra
West Africa is rich in arts & crafts, and so much can be found in Ghana.
Art for art’s sake does not traditionally exist in Africa:
everything that was crafted had some purpose or meaning behind it.
In Ghana, you can find beautiful hand woven textiles, old and new beads,
brass works, gold jewelry, ceramics, paintings, sculptures, and wood carvings.
Major forms of arts and crafts in Ghana
Where to buy arts and crafts
Centre for National Culture, , also called Arts Center
AACD African Market
Colours Of Africa
Interior Design and Furniture
Notes on bargaining
Following is a description of the major forms of arts and crafts found in Ghana.
A particular textile associated with Ghana is the Adrinkra cloth which bears the symbols by the same name. The cloth is generally associated with funerals and special celebrations. However, the symbols can be seen everywhere, from walls to candlesticks to tro-tros. Each one has a name and a meaning, as well as an aesthetic appeal. For more information on adrinkra symbols and their meaning, find a copy of Values of Adrinkra Symbols by Adolph H. Agbo (Ebony Designs and Publications, Kumasi); available at Artist Alliance Gallery and other places.
Beads play an important role in West African life. They are worn to signify special occasions, wealth, and status. They indicate stages in life, such as motherhood or mourning; and they become a symbol of office for chiefs, traditional priests, and other figures in the community. Beads were used in the barter for slaves, ivory, palm oil and gold in previous centuries. Some beads are imbued with special powers and some tribes believe their ancestors sprang from beads. In Ghana, beads are made from recycled glass, brass, bauxite, shells and seeds. It is a great field trip to go to one of the many bead making sites in the Krobo area. Beads from all over the world are available in the markets here. An excellent book on beads is called The World of Beads. (see Travel and Accommodation section for detailed information.)
Another common craft in Ghana is items made from brass. These are made by a method referred to as lost wax casting. The item is originally formed from beeswax, and a mould is made around it. The wax is melted out and molten brass poured in. The craft began as the production of gold weights, which were used historically to measure currency (gold dust) by the Ashanti. Often the piece represented some proverb or Adrinkra symbol. Later, brass was used in place of gold, making it more widely available, and today items made from brass are mainly for decorative purposes.
Traditional pottery can be found in almost every region of the country. It is made to serve such purposes as holding water, eating and cooking, and even today many people still use clay vessels in their day to day life. Pottery is made almost exclusively by women in Ghana. Often pieces are decorated with patterns and symbols, which have significance in the community, and though the pottery varies from region to region, it shares simplicity of shape and the burnt markings that come from being pit fired. However, in Kpandu in the Volta region the women potters make animal shapes, which are unique to all of West Africa, and the women in the North at Sirigu are noted for the painted decorations on their pots. For those who prefer contemporary pottery, beautiful kiln-fired pieces are increasingly available.
Jewelry and Gold
Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, has an exciting jewelry industry. It is well known for its gold, silver is also prominent. Most gold jewelry is 18 karat, although both 22 karat and 14 karat are available. Ghana's handcrafted gold jewelry, moulded in unique cultural symbols, embodies the Ghanaian personality. Ghanaian goldsmiths are exploring a mix of Western concepts interwoven with African motifs. The traditional Adrinkra and contemporary designs make their work unique. These designs are displayed in many shops. It is also possible to sit down with most reputable jewelers to create a special design. They are also able to copy designs from magazines and pictures, readily welcoming opportunities to create unusual pieces. Be sure to shop around, however, as the price per gram does vary considerably from store to store. For more information about gold in Ghana, get a copy of Ashanti Gold by Professor Edward S. Ayensu (Marshall Editions Development Ltd. London, 1997).
Another textile associated with Ghana is Kente, the intricately hand-woven, brightly-coloured cloth. There are two types of Kente: the Asante and the Ewe Kente. Weaving Kente is labour intensive work and takes years to learn, making the end product expensive, but a wonderful keepsake of time spent in Ghana. This large piece of cloth is traditionally worn in a toga-like fashion by men, and the colours and patterns of each piece carry meaning. Two excellent books on Kente are African Majesty: the Textile Art of Ashanti and Ewe by Peter Adler (Thames Hudson, 1992) and Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity by Doran H. Ross (UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History Textile Series No. 2).
Painting as an art can be seen in many public domains, from brightly coloured fishing boats and signs for hairdressers and barbers, to the symbols painted on the mud walls of homes in the north. Contemporary paintings can be found adorning the walls of many hotels and businesses. There are many good galleries around town, especially the new Artists Alliance Gallery on Beach Road, before the La Palm Hotel. Several Ghanaian painters, most notably Ablade Glover, Larry Otto, Gabriel Eklou and Wiz have achieved international recognition, but still produce locally.
Carved Wooden stools occupy an important place traditionally in Ghana. In the South, a chief's highest symbol of office is the stool (in the North, it is an animal skin). In ordinary households, stools will be given as gifts for certain special occasions. Between the base and the seat of the stool is where the artist can be most creative, and you will find a wide range of symbols carved into this space, each one carrying a meaning. A good history of the stool and its significance in Ghanaian culture is The Sacred Stools of Akan by Peter Sarpong (Ghana Publishing Corp., 1971).
There are many other forms of wooden carving that not only play a significant role in ceremonial and traditional life, but that have an aesthetic value as well. Look at the carvings on the top of chiefs and linguists staffs, each embedded with symbolism.
The ubiquitous Akwaaba fertility dolls come in many different shapes, sizes and styles. There are also many masks and sculptures available. Masks are often copies from other African cultures as there is no tradition of mask making in among the tribes of Ghana.
The coffin makers take pride in their craft by designing unique coffins in the shape of fish, birds, beer bottles, coco pods, cars and much, much more. But that may be a bit strange to own and too large to take home.
Where to buy arts and crafts
The Centre for National Culture,
also known as the Arts Center is Ghana's largest crafts market, and as such this could be your first stop for souvenirs. There are scores of stalls selling beads, wood carvings, brass work, leather goods, kente cloth and numerous items made from it, and much more. You'll find some crafts from neighbouring countries as well. Be sure to bargain for all your purchases. The vendors can be pushy.
Also check out the jewelry shops and the government-run craft shops on the right of the entrance to the Centre, as they have fixed prices. They will help you to gauge how much you should be paying at the other stalls.
Directions: located in Accra Central at the intersection of Barnes Rd and 28th February Road, east of the Kwame Nkrumah memorial - 0302 662 581 - 0302 664 099.
AACD African Market - CLOSED
is one of the largest one-stop shops for African goods in Ghana. This 3-storey building outlet located in Osu displays home furnishings, clothing, paintings, beads, precious metals in the finest jewelry, dolls, even artifacts from the Egyptian Pyramids, leather bags from Benin, Raffia mats and copper wares from Zimbabwe, silver from Niger and Ethiopia, Gold from Ghana and South Africa, souvenirs and many more however at a fixed price. Look out for the Bomukasa studio renowned craftsman, for exclusive woodwork.
Directions: located on Abrebrensem street off Oxford street, 100 metres down from LaraMart supermarket in Osu. Another route is to find Abrebrensem Street off the Labadi Road near St. Peter’s Catholic church – 0302 778 105
is an crafts market along Liberation road. Here you will find makeshift kiosks ressembling a shanty town, nevertheless this quiet community has created some of the most artistic and beautiful works of art; wooden Adrinka symbols, traditional stools, decorated coffins, exquisite carvings. There is a whole community of skilled and talented indigenous craftsmen, a visit into the village itself will bring one close to the artists at work. In order to take pictures, one must either buy an artifact or pay a stipulated GHS5 fee.
Directions: located along Liberation Road, on your left coming from Max Mart at 37, next to Opeibea House and before the traffic light of SilverStar Tower. It can be difficult to see from the road.
is a renowned art shop filled with beautiful art objects, sculptures, wooden furniture, ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and Ghanaian books. A sprawling workshop and gallery that has the aim of improving and developing local artisan skills. Much of the furniture and ironwork is created onsite. Large variety of traditional african furniture, jewelry, textiles with a contemporary twist.The store is the creation of Poem and Elizabeth Vardon with inputs from both local and artists across the continent.
Directions: North Dzorwulu. behind Gulf House Okponglo - 0302 508 500
Colours of Africa
is a small boutique with filled with various souvenirs, home decorations, crafts, paintings, furnishings and antique furniture. Some of the furniture is displayed outside under a canopy.
Directions: in Labone on North Labone Avenue, between Melting Moments restaurant and GT Bank.
is an NGO which produces high quality apparel items in Ghana for export, but it also sells these items at discounted rates in Accra. Clothing and many accessories such as locally made soaps, key rings, beaded jewelry made by women’s group outside Accra, books, etc. The proceeds benefits the entire community of origin.
Directions to the main shop:14th Lane, off Oxford street in Osu, in the courtyard across the entrance of the parking of Koala supermarket, left of the wine shops - 0244 530 467.
Kate Torda Dagadu, who came from Hungary in 1979, is offering jewelry that is made out of beads, bronze, coconut shells, bull horn and other interesting materials in her shop in Asylum Down. Lessons are also available.
Directions: C522/3 Mango Tree Avenue, Asylum Down - 0302 235 982.
Jake Mulhane Expedition Outfitters
Opened in January 2015, this gallery and shop offers genuine old Kente and Ewe cloths, wooden sculpture from the Asante, Fante, Ewe, Lobi, Bobo-Bwa, Bura and other peoples, suitable regional apparel and genuine "colonial administration" furniture and expedition trunks and materials. Opened from 10am to 2pm daily. Directions: 1st Soula Close, Labone - 0554 598 438.
- Be sure to visit some of the various arts & crafts bazaars that come up from time to time in Accra organized by various international schools or women’s groups; a good number of artisans set up stalls. Check our Calendar of Events.
- The traveler short of time is welcome to visit Oxford Street, Osu with art vendors strewn along the road, all types of artworks, carvings, small paintings, traditional Kente strips and dresses, leather works, gold, silver, bronze and beaded jewelry are available. Haggling is encouraged to assure you get the best prices. On the other hand, walking on the other side of the road will reduce the number of hustlers.
- Should you have time to go to Aburi north of Accra, we strongly recommend to stop at the craft/curio stalls at the roadside there. The prices are lower and there is a lot less pressure and hassle than at the Arts Centre. Visit the Aburi Woodcarving Center.
- While there, try to visit the Aburi Carving Center: craftsmen can be seen at work on magnificent carvings and drums which are available for sale.
- If anyone is interested in beads and looking for a day outing, a visit to the Koforidua Bead Market is definitely worth a visit. It is now open daily but has moved to Jubilee Square in Koforidua. Travel time approximately one and half hour from Accra but definitely worth it.
The place for that is Artist Alliance Gallery at Omanye House on the Beach Road on the way to Labadi Beach (just before the road opens to the see on your right). Three floors of all kinds of arts - unique in Ghana - 0245 251 404.
Another is Loom Gallery in Adabraka at Samlotte House, 119 Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, south of Nkrumah Circle on the main road to Makola market - 0302 224 746 - Open from 10am to 5pm except Sundays.
Kings Art Gallery is in Teshie, a few km east of Labadi Beach - 0261 170 596
Antique Lemonade Gallery is a new photo gallery opened in the Airport Residential Area seeking to provide a small, intimate space for creatives to hang out and learn from each other.
Tiga African Art Gallery & Consultancy is located in Labone: see their Facebook page as well.
You can look at Gold Coast Art House website and Facebook page.
Nubuke Foundation in East Legon has an art shop and many other things worth a visit.
Visit the website of Ghana Association of Visual Artists.
You can also read this 2017 article from ArtAfrica: The Rise of the New African Galleries.
And "What's driving the growing interest in African art?" from April 17 with a note on Ghanain artist El Anatsui.
Interior design and furniture
See the website and Facebook page.
See the website and Facebook page.
Lastly, a fashion note on the side of Arts & Crafts
Woodin Boutique: a temple of high fashion fabrics. Fourteen artists create ever changing designs. The Woodin shop is at the corner of Oxford St. and 16th Lane, just below Barclays Bank - Tel: 0302 764 371 (and also has a shop in Accra Mall).
Da Viva : pure cotton fabric with a subtle mix of elegance and color.
Vlisco Boutique is in the Mall as you enter on the south side, across Woodin.
More on Fashion in Ghana on Fashion Ghana's website.
Notes on bargaining
For most newcomers arriving in Africa, the way of doing business in Ghana may be unfamiliar because they are used to items having clearly marked and prices fixed. In Ghanaian markets, and even some shops, commodities are worth whatever the seller can get for them and bargaining is the name of the game.
In tourist markets such as the Arts Centre or vendors on the roadside, sellers will inevitably make their asking price high. Bargaining is very much expected and should always be done in a friendly way.
How then to go about negotiating reasonably? Given the wide range of goods and services offered and the even wider range of personalities selling those goods, there are no universal guidelines to be given. However, the following may provide some help, with this tip being the most important: decide in advance what you are willing to pay or ask friends what they have paid in the past so that you have an idea of what the price should be, then let the bidding start.
You can go one or two different ways:
- the easier and quicker way is to rebut the initial (usually very high) price with a firm take-it-or-leave it offer. Not knowing what the seller's bottom line price really is, more often than not you're probably erring high, in which case the seller will jump at the sale. Pay your money, take your item and be happy with your deal,
- the second way to go is all-out negotiation: after hearing the seller's opening price, your first offer should always be lower than what you are really willing to pay. The seller will inevitably reduce his initial price and the bargaining process has begun. Remember, nobody will sell at a loss, so if your price is too low, the negotiation will continue. At some point, a perfect median will be established and you'll have your item and the seller will have your money.
One all-too-common occurrence is the dreaded "obroni" tax, whereby a vendor will assume that because you are a "foreigner" (i.e. an obroni) then you're "rich." If that's the case, the seller will not likely come down in price. Walk away. If the seller doesn't follow you, offer a slightly higher amount to a competitor. Repeat the process if necessary. In this way, over time, you will establish a baseline.
Handicrafts and non-perishable items have a wider margin to bargain than foodstuffs. Often, food sellers will not change their price at all, but will add an extra tomato or so to generate goodwill and a (hopefully) repeat purchase. Some people think that they will get better prices if they send a Ghanaian shopping or bring a Ghanaian with them to do the bargaining. In some cases, this does work, provided that you stay entirely out of the picture, and that your "agent" sounds sincere enough that the seller believes the item is for him.
Some people will find the process of having to negotiate the price of everything to be hard work and tedious. Be that as it may, this mode of doing business is like every other – the less work you put in, the more money you will have to spend. The issue is striking a balance that suits you. It won't take as long as you think. If you totally dislike bargaining, it is possible to purchase most anything you need at stores with fixed prices, but that misses the fun of African markets.
Please note that there is a substantial tax on Ghanaian antiquities exported from Ghana.
If you buy anything that looks like an antique, be sure to get a receipt from the seller and a statement or certificate from the Museums and Monuments Board to the effect that your purchase is not an antiquity.