Fish, onion, plane, beer bottle or cigarette… The Ga people are used to burying their dead in bizarrely shaped coffins.
In Ghana, funerals are cause for huge celebrations and it’s up to the families to honour their dead in style. In the region of Teshie, the Kane Kwei woodwork and sculpting workshop makes coffins in all kinds of shapes, which can symbolise the profession, a hobby or even a vice of the deceased person. Begun in the 1950s, figurative coffins quickly became a tradition.
Today, the company is going well. I have eight apprentices. When they finish their training they'll open their own workshops. There are already three in the Teshie region.
It’s the family who decides the shape of the coffin. I make a lot of fish-shaped coffins. But when people come to see me to discuss the shape and style of the coffin, I try to convince them to choose something original because I like trying new things. I managed to persuade a family to choose a xylophone for a musician who had died, because a piano or a guitar would have been much too classical. Each time it should be a challenge. Someone even asked me to do a Hummer. I see my work as a means of making the coffin an object of nobility. In the past, we didn’t respect it, a coffin was simply a piece of wood and the deceased person inside was virtually nothing.
Several museums have exposed my work, such as the Quai Branly in Paris. I have also established an artists’ residence, and an American came and spent two months in my studio in 2009. At the moment I’m in talks with several designers regarding the possibility of making furniture."
A coffin in the shape of a Bible.
Jean-Michel Rousset explains: "a family ordered a coffin in the shape of an agouti [a huge African rodent] for a man who had adored the meat of this animal: they provided a model and for one month it was kept at the studio so that the coffin could be made to look as life-like as possible."
In the shape of an onion.
In the shape of a ballpoint pen for a teacher.
Eric in his workshop, in front of his grandfather's workbench. All of the photos were submitted by our Observer.