If you think that being buried in a woven or paper coffin is being a bit different, you’re wildly mistaken. Ghanaian fantasy coffins have got to be the most unique and fantastic way to be laid to rest. Can’t get enough of the dark fizzy stuff? Commit your body to the ground in a coke bottle coffin. Spend your Sunday’s twitching? Encase your corpse in an eagle. Paa Joe, the subject of Benjamin Wigley’s latest documentary Paa Joe: Dead Not Buried, is known as the grandfather of fantasy coffins, having crafted them since 1974.
Paa Joe’s livelihood recently came under threat when he was forced to move his premises from the funeral district to the outskirts of his village due to unaffordable rental increases. Struggling to get the business he used to yet desperately wanting to continue his trade, he is now seeking success in the contemporary art world in a bid to save his livelihood. His coffins have been displayed at galleries across the world, including London’s Southbank Centre and British Museum. But as of the 1 May he is in Nottinghamshire as artist in residence at Clumber Park. In what is his first visit to England, and only the second time he has left Africa, he will be carving a lion coffin within the grounds; the lion being an important symbol of Africa and its heritage. Paa Joe will be working alongside his son, Jacob, during the month and members of the public are welcome to come down and see the work in progress.
The residency will culminate with a huge performance this Saturday, set to a soundscape that will take inspiration from traditional Gha funerals. There will be a chance in the day for people to write messages to send with the coffin as it takes its journey around the park – the Gha carry their dead around the village to confuse the spirit so they don’t haunt the family of the recently deceased. There will also be themed food available, poetry and mask making before the final procession that be headed up by Sabar Soundsystem and will include choreographed dancers and giant puppets created by NTU students as part of a design module based on the residency. The coffin will be floated across Clumber Lake on a large raft to represent the Gha belief that the deceased need to pass a large body of water to get to their land of fathers. The finale will take place at the golden hour to make the most of the light and the atmosphere to create a surreal, spectacular sight beyond imagination.
Please check the Paa Joe Facebook page for details of Saturday's Grand Finale,and for your chance to win a Paa Joe poster, designed by Amy Blackwell.
Get crafty and have a ball at your local independent cinema