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Proverbs of Volatility

Asafo Flags of the Fante People 1


Cavin-Morris Gallery New York City

Cover image: AF 370 detail (see page 12)


Proverbs of Volatility Asafo Flags of the Fante People


Proverbs of Volatility: Asafo Flags of the Fante People The Asafo flags from the Akan people of Ghana (primarily Fante) provide a rich and valuable insight into a vernacular system. The flags use imagery from proverbs, myths, aphorisms, and sometimes dark humor to represent social control in a community. Each Akan town has between one and seven military companies that use the flags to communicate not only to constituencies, but also to display messages of their own integrity to rival other military companies. The flags are danced, marched and displayed draping the company shrine. They are raised on flagpoles on ceremonious occasions. Because the dances are intricate, training for the elaborate movements is seen as a privilege for those who began learning them at an early age. The flags mostly have either the Union Jack or the Ghanaian national tri-color in one corner. The change from the Union Jack happened at Ghana’s independence in 1957. There are reports that flags were used as early as the 17th Century, used in battle to identify friendly troops. Sadly, those early reports neglected to physically describe the imagery on the flags. According to Doran Ross, the first time a flag was actually described was in 1693 when an English trader named Philips noted: “The flag he was flying was white with a black man painted in the middle brandishing scimitar.” Documentation from the mid-19th Century reports the use of the flags to goad and tease other military companies through imagery, suggesting superiority for their own strength and prowess, while ridiculing their competition. These actions initiated many a brawl and sometimes bloodshed. Ross says there are three main categories of imagery: “historical, emblematic, and proverbial”. The history category refers to past encounters with rival companies. These flags are less common because over time they have been removed by elders for their provocative natures. More common are flags depicting emblems of, or representing directly, persons of prestige in the company. They use strong images to denote power. The third category, proverbs, represents the majority of the flags. These proverbs are called epe, and are taken very seriously by the Akan. There are thousands of proverbs, 3


but only a few hundred of the proverb images are used in the flags. By reducing the quantity of images used and repeating them, granting artistic license to the maker, a common iconography known to the populace and especially to other companies allows for easier recognition of the meanings. They draw from a common cultural wisdom. We are pleased to be able to present this rare collection of flags from the collection of Jean-Jacques Mandel. Most are pre-1957 and include some rare and fascinating subjects. Even if we don’t know all the proverbial sources, the joy of seeing these flags is that the images themselves are provocative and universal. - July, 2016

Much in formation for this introduction came from: Ross, Doran H. “Fighting with Art, Appliqued Flags of the Fante Asafo, UCLA Museum of Cultural History, Spring, 1979 Cole, Herbert M., and Ross, Doran The Arts of Ghana, UCLA Museum of Cultural History, 1977

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 32.68 x 62.99 inches 83 x 160 cm Af 381

Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 28.54 x 36.61 inches 72.5 x 93 cm Af 382

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 40 x 57 inches 101.6 x 144.8 cm Af 383

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 39 x 52.5 inches 99.1 x 133.4 cm Af 384


Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 32 x 57 inches 81.3 x 144.8 cm AF 355 8


Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 44.5 x 61 inches 113 x 154.9 cm AF 359

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 37.5 x 41 inches 95.3 x 104.1 cm AF 363


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 36 x 66 inches 91.4 x 167.6 cm AF 369

Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 37 x 54 inches 94 x 137.2 cm AF 371

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 45.25 x 61.5 inches 114.9 x 156.2 cm AF 367

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 46 x 53 inches 116.8 x 134.6 cm AF 368


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 37 x 58 inches 94 x 147.3 cm AF 37012


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 37.5 x 53 inches 95.3 x 134.6 cm Af 387

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 47 x 50.5 inches 119.4 x 128.3 cm Af 388


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 38 x 49.5 inches 96.5 x 125.7 cm AF 365

Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 33 x 51 inches 83.8 x 129.5 cm AF 366

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 32.5 x 57.5 inches 82.6 x 146.1 cm Af 395

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 27.5 x 63 inches 69.9 x 160 cm AF 372


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 33 x 51 inches 83.8 x 129.5 cm AF 361

Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 30 x 52 inches 76.2 x 132.1 cm AF 364

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 38 x 31 inches 96.5 x 78.7 cm 17AF 362


Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 29 x 42 inches 73.7 x 106.7 cm AF 377

Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 30 x 56 inches 76.2 x 142.2 cm AF 378

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm AF 375

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 29 x 51.25 inches 73.7 x 130.2 cm AF 376


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 34 x 58 inches 86.4 x 147.3 cm AF 36020


Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 27 x 37 inches 68.6 x 94 cm Af 379

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 46 x 61 inches 116.8 x 154.9 cm Af 380


Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 33 x 53 inches 83.8 x 134.6 cm AF 373

Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 35 x 65.5 inches 88.9 x 166.4 cm AF 374

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 31 x 56 inches 78.7 x 142.2 cm AF 357

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 36.5 x 55 inches 92.7 x 139.7 cm AF 356


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 40 x 52.5 inches 101.6 x 133.4 cm Af 385

Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 38.78 x 48.43 inches 98.5 x 123 cm Af 386

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 36.5 x 63 inches 92.7 x 160 cm 25 AF 358


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 40.5 x 54 inches 102.9 x 137.2 cm Af 389

Pre-1914 Cotton fabric with felt 41.34 x 60.63 inches 105 x 154 cm Af 390

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Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 40 x 56 inches 101.6 x 142.2 cm Af 391

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 40.55 x 68.11 inches 103 x 173 cm Af 392


Pre-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 44 x 63 inches 111.8 x 160 cm Af 393

Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 32.5 x 54 inches 82.6 x 137.2 cm Af 394

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Post-1957 Cotton fabric with felt 37 x 56 inches 94 x 142.2 cm 29 Af 396


n.d. Cotton fabric with felt 8 x 88 inches 20.3 x 223.5 cm Af 398

n.d. Cotton fabric with felt 28 x 12.5 inches 71.1 x 31.8 cm Af 397

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Copyright Š 2016 CAVIN-MORRIS GALLERY Cavin-Morris Gallery 210 Eleventh Ave, Ste. 201 New York, NY 10001 t. 212 226 3768 www.cavinmorris.com Catalogue design: Marissa Levien, Caroline Casey, & Sophie Friedman-Pappas Photography: Jurate Veceraite Introduction contributed by Randall Morris 31


Back cover image: AF 360 detail (see page 20)


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Proverbs of Volatility: Asafo Flags of the Fante People