In May 2013 Paa Joe and his son Jacob travelled from Ghana to the UK taking part in an artist residency in the stunning surroundings of Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. The residency was hosted in the City Arts Dome, which became Paa Joe’s workshop for the month. During his residency thousands of visitors enjoyed watching him construct his trademark lion coffin, one of the most powerful and important symbols of Africa.
Paa Joe is a master craftsman and the Grandfather of the fantasy coffin trade. Since the age of sixteen, he has been crafting beautiful coffins that represent the lives of the people they are made for – a Coca Cola bottle for a street vendor, or a lion for the head of a family. He has produced thousands of coffins, the majority of which lie deep under the ground.
A handful of Paa Joe’s works have previously been exhibited internationally as examples of the Ga culture at the British Museum in London and Brooklyn Museum in New York.
During the residency City Arts worked with a local school in Worksop to nine workshops. 130 young people participated and explored Ghanaian traditions and themes in sessions that included creative writing with Panya Banjoko, mask making with Stephen Jon and African drumming with Michael Davis.
In May, Paa Joe and his coffin were relocated for one day to Rufford Country Park. Visitors were delighted to watch him work and took part in workshops led by one of Rufford’s associate artists Sandy Bywater.
Six further workshops were also delivered for visitors at Clumber Park in the run up to the celebration event and included mask making with Stephen Jon, creative writing with Panya Banjoko, and contributing to the finale, decorative silver birch branches with Sandy Bywater and small chimes made with Mark Beeston that were played by members of the audience.
In total 457 people took part in the arts workshops delivered by City Arts as part of this extensive progamme.
To mark the end of Paa Joe and Jacob’s residency, a fantastic celebratory event took place on the 1st of June at Clumber Park. The finale saw Paa Joe’s lion coffin processed through Clumber Park in a theatrical recreation of a traditional Ga funeral ceremony. Performers in exotic costumes, poetry readings, large puppets designed by Nottingham’s Trent University students, a stilt walker, fire jugglers, The Scraggies led by Stephen Jon, vibrant dancers led by choreographer Ernest Kwame Obeng and drumming by Sabar Sound System, brought the park to life with colourful and lively African and carnival celebration. The Lion coffin’s final journey ended when it crossed the lake at Clumber Park.
170 tickets were sold in advance of the event with an estimated 300 people attending the finale. A phenomenal 31,443 visited Clumber Park during Paa Joe’s residency and saw him at work in the City Arts Dome.
Throughout the residency award winning filmmaker Ben Wigley from Artdocs captured footage of Paa Joe’s residency and people’s response to him and his work. A film crew was also in place to capture the stunning finale event.
The project was delivered in partnership with Artdocs and the National Trust and a fabulous team of artists and performers, and was funded and supported by Arts Council England, Nottinghamshire County Council and the National Trust.