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Future Exhibitions

Paa Joe: Gates of No Return

February 29–May 31, 2020

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Architectural coffin sculpture by Paa Joe.

Paa Joe (Ghanaian, born 1947), Cape Coast Castle. 1653 Sweden, 1665 Britain, 2004–2005 and 2017, emele wood and enamel. American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift in memory of Claude

Simard, 2018.13.1. Photo © Paa Joe, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Artist and master craftsman Joseph Tetteh Ashong (Ghanian, b. 1947), also known as Paa Joe, is the most celebrated figurative coffin maker of his generation. In the tradition of figurative coffins—or abeduu adekai (which means “proverb boxes”)—the structures represent the unique lives of the dead.

This exhibition comprises a series of large-scale, painted wood sculptures commissioned in 2004 and 2005 that represent architectural models of Gold Coast castles and forts, which served as way stations for more than 6 million Africans sold into slavery and sent to the Americas and the Caribbean between the 16th and 19th centuries. Once they were forced through the “Gates of No Return,” these enslaved people started an irreversible and perilous journey during which many died. Relying on traditional techniques and materials, Joe crafts his coffins to represent vessels ferrying the dead into the afterlife that speak to spirits separated from bodies in trauma.

In addition to the seven architectural models, the exhibition features archival documents and recordings, including photographs and short films by award-winning filmmaker Benjamin Wigley and art historian Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, curator of Ghana’s 58th pavilion for the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Organization and Support

This exhibition is organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

This exhibition is made possible by

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Delta logo.

Exhibition Series Sponsors

Northside Hospital logo.

Warner Media logo.

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
wish Foundation logo.

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporter
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
Tom and Susan Wardell
Rod Westmoreland

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
W. Daniel Ebersole and Sarah Eby-Ebersole
Peggy Foreman
Robin and Hilton Howell
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust

Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.