Serge Attukwei Clottey: Ghana’s ‘Yellow Brick Road’ leads to a different kind of fairy tale

There is a real yellow brick road forming in Ghana, and it shares at least one thing in common with the fictional road that gave it its name.

Just like Dorothy in the story “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, who must follow a magical yellow road back to Kansas, Serge Attukwei Clottey – the artist behind “Yellow Brick Road” in Ghana – is driven by a burning desire For the House.

“As an artist, I’m interested in migration,” Clottey said on CNN’s original Nomad series. “Not like in humans, but migration like in objects.”

The objects used to create Clottey’s work hold special significance in Ghanaian culture. The “Yellow Brick Road” is made up of deconstructed “gallons” or yellow plastic jerry cans that were originally containers for imported cooking oil. They are widely reused to carry water amid the country’s continued water scarcity and got their name during a particularly difficult time for water access: the tenure of President John Kufuor, who was in power from 2001 to 2009. This is when they became known as “Kufuor gallons”, or simply “gallons”.

As a child, Serge Attukwei Clottey used “gallons”, or yellow plastic jerrycans, to collect water for his household in Ghana. From now on, containers are at the heart of his art. Credit: Nii Odzenma/Courtesy of the artist and the gallery 1957

They are still commonplace in Ghana, where 1 in 10 people have to travel up to 30 minutes to fetch water, according to UNICEF. Powerful emblem of everyday struggles, they have also become a symbol of African art, since Clottey placed them at the center of his “Afrogallonism” movement.

Gallons of ‘bricks’

Clottey grew up using the containers to fetch water for her home before moving in with her uncle, who had a dripping tap. But the gallons, which actually have a capacity of 20 to 25 liters, or about 6 US gallons, then took on a whole new meaning for the artist from Accra.

“I found them as available materials that I can work with for a long time. So I put them together like a wall and then painted on them,” Clottey recently said on CNN’s African Voices.

African artists of community building

Soon the containers began to pile up. “I didn’t have a place to store them, so it became a problem,” he said. He then had the idea of ​​cutting them up, which was not well received by the local community. “When I started pruning them, the whole community was against it because they thought they needed them to survive and I get rid of them, I destroy them. So it was quite a conflict, I I had to hire them into my studio and tell them it’s unhygienic to store water there.”

He demonstrated the concept by showing the effects of leaving jerry cans out in the sun and filled with water for a few days. Not only can plastic particles leach into the water, but the high temperatures create a breeding ground for bacteria, making the water potentially dangerous.

When Clottey started cutting up the jerrycans, the community was not very happy at first.

When Clottey started cutting up the jerrycans, the community was not very happy at first. Credit: Nii Odzenma/Courtesy of the artist and the gallery 1957

“So they started getting rid of them in their system. It’s a gradual process, where they get rid of the old ones, they bring them to my studio, they give some away, I have to buy some from them. You know, we a sort of trade with them and all that,” he said.

Nothing better than being at home

Clottey then began cutting out the jerry cans and incorporating the pieces into his art, creating his signature yellow tapestries and using the tops of the cans as masks in the photographs, the round opening symbolizing a human mouth.

In 2016, after cutting out hundreds, he launched the “Yellow Brick Road” – his largest public installation – in the Labadi Beach neighborhood of Accra, where he grew up.

The pieces are sewn together and then, with the help of locals, used to paper the streets of Labadi. The work is meant to symbolize the ingenuity and resilience of the community, but its luminous boundaries also underscore the fact that many local residents, including Clottey’s family, cannot provide proof of ownership of their home or property. land due to lack of paperwork.

“Yellow Brick Road” is meant to symbolize community resilience and also the issue of property rights. Credit: Nii Odzenma/Courtesy of the artist and the gallery 1957

“My family migrated from Jamestown to Labadi and they were traveling up the coast. They traded in liquor and beef, and based on the trading relationships my family had with the workers, they found a place where s ‘install, and it was a verbal agreement. There was no documentation,’ he said on African Voices.

After 200 years, the question of property rights still arises, and the “Yellow Brick Road” doubles as a powerful visual reminder.

“I use the work to kind of delineate ownership through the installation. Since I started the project, I’ve had people come in and tell my family’s story, and it creates an interesting dialogue. I hope this could be used to defend homesteads in court,” Clottey said. “I’m very interested in how in places in Ghana people are experiencing this ownership dispute because some of the properties were inherited by verbal agreements, without paperwork or documentation. I think it’s a very important part of my project. “

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