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Paa Joe: Gates of No Return

October 30, 2018–February 24, 2019
At the American Folk Art Museum
Lincoln Square, Manhattan

Accra-based artist and craftsman Paa Joe (b. 1947), known for his fantasy coffins that draw from the traditional Ghanaian custom of abebuu adekai, gained international recognition in seminal presentations like Magicians of the Earth (Pompidou, 1989). This exhibition presents a unique series of large-scale painted wood sculptures commissioned in 2004 and 2005—architectural models of Gold Coast castles and forts that served as holding pens for more than six million Africans sold into slavery and sent to the Americas and the Caribbean between the fifteenth and nineteenth century. Once forced through these “Gates of No Return,” they started an irreversible, perilous journey during which many died. This production alludes to Paa Joe’s coffins, seen as vessels ferrying the dead in the afterlife, speaking to spirits separated from bodies in trauma. Archival documents and recordings accompany the show.

Curator: Valérie Rousseau, curator, Self-Taught Art and Art Brut, American Folk Art Museum


Image credit: Paa Joe (b. 1947); Cape Coast Castle. 1653 Sweden, 1665 Britain; 2004–2005, and 2017; Accra, Ghana; emele wood and enamel; 45 x 133 x 88 in. Photo © Paa Joe. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.



This exhibition is supported in part by the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Ford Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.