IMG_20150708_071642 by Laurian

In June of 2014, as part of a project of 20th-century Ghanaian cloth, I interviewed Felicia Abban, the widow of the designer who fashioned clothes worn by the first president of an independent Ghana—Kwame Nkrumah. During a period when Western attire marked modernity and respectability, Nkrumah’s dress in indigenous patterns and cloth was a compelling visual statement in support of nationalism and Pan-African ideals. In this photograph, Robert Abban, a textile and print merchant, is shown designing what would become Ghana’s Independence Day cloth. The information tag and Felicia Abban’s halting memories are the only bits of information I could gather about the image. The picture harkens to a question that regularly reverberates in my mind—what kinds of limitations do we have to account for when aged African photographs move into public circulations?

The unprecedented growth and interest among artists, curators, and scholars in African photography—including its production, circulation, and consumption, makes this question all the more critical. This particular photograph captures a pause in creative production. Taken by the subject’s spouse and fellow artist, this picture also acknowledges the connection between clothes and political expression on the eve of Ghanaian independence.

I share this image in hopes that a conversation can move beyond this brief nod towards visibility and into wider conversations about African photographs, Ghanaian photography and the way images circulate. Please email us at

*Image courtesy of Ghana’s Association of Professional Photographers, 2015



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