Our Ghanaian masks are produced by a small group of crafters, lead by our man on the ground, Godwin. Godwin has been working with the artisans since 2002 as part of an organisation but has since branched out independently and begun his own business. For him, working with these artisans and knowing that the work he does helps to better their livelihood gives him such joy. He also enjoys knowing that their craft serves as a means of preserving the culture of the artisans. Godwin works very closely with the artisans who interpret our designs. Taking them our drawings and sending us pictures of their progress so we can tweak the designs along the way. Once the order is completed he will pack and ship to us and take care of all the documentation and solving of any problems that occur along the way - he is a superstar!
Masks and carved figures are a means of connecting people with their ancestral background and belief. They represent the people culturally, economically, spiritually and socially. The early carvers drew inspiration from their encounters with spirits. The belief is that whoever wears the mask is possessed by the spirit the mask represents. These spirits could be good, bad, or evil. Some masks could represent ethnic tribes located in certain areas at certain periods and occasions or ceremonies, which could be used to trace the identity of the people, example the Dogon Tribe of Mali, Bwa (Butterfly mask) Grunsi people from Burkina Faso. Carving is one of the indigenous or tradition occupations of many people in Ghana and the skill has been passed on from generation to generation. Artisans need to learn the skill of the craft through apprenticeship which may take two to three years to learn the skill for general carving. Once the skill is acquired and is used daily or on regular basis, it could take up to about a year to become a Master Carver in a particular field. Master carvers normally specialize in one particular field eg, Mask, Figures or Statues, portraits, Shadows or abstract works etc.
In Ghana, most of the wood used in the production of masks is off cuts or reclaimed wood from big sawmill factories. Some are also acquired from construction sites where trees are felled to make way for roads or building construction. This wood which would have been used as fuel wood is used in making most of these handcrafted products. This means that each mask produced is low-waste, as well as being lovingly handcrafted.
We sat down Godwin to find out more about this ancient craft and what it is like for the artisans preserving this piece of Ghanaian history. Here's what he had to say:
How long have you been working on your craft?
I’ve been working in the craft industry for over 15years from a shop attendant to export Manager representing a lot of craft producers from Ghana.
How many people do you work with?
Pictured: artisans Abdulai Osman Adams & Alhaji Alhassan Abubakar
What is the process of producing a mask?
What is your favourite part of your work?
Visiting these craft producers in their workshop in their villages all over the country and get to understand their work, family. It’s fulfilling to see the joy of the artisans working to support their family and being able to secure orders from buyers to keep these artisans busy, knowing it’s going to pay their needs one way or the other.
Why is your work important to you?
Apart from the financial rewards which helps cater for my family, I see it as a duty to help those artisans who do not have the opportunity to sell more their works to large groups. The knowledge I get to share with these artisans on trends and assist them develop products along those line.
Do you enjoy the things you make being sold all around the world?
It’s indeed fulfilling to see your works being sold across the globe. You could see the joy on the faces of these artisans when I show them the images of their products on foreign websites being sold.
You can shop our entire Ghanaian mask collection here.