Theologies Exhibit II

Earlier in 2020, in conjunction with the release of the open access digital volume of Theologies of American Exceptionalism, ed. by Winni Fallers Sullivan and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, the Center for Religion and the Human hosted a small exhibit featuring some of my photographs of “America”-centric images common in urban Ghana. That exhibit challenged viewers to contemplate what kind of work “America”-centric visual culture may be doing in the country. It also suggested that viewers consider such images as discursive prompts, as fodder for conceptualizing what “America” is and what relationships—real, imagined, and desired—it has, and ought to have, to Ghana(ians). At their core, these challenges are examples of the kind of theological inquiry, the kind of thinking America anew, that the essays in Theologies challenge their readers to do.

In anticipation of the volume's upcoming paperback edition, I have prepared a second exhibit. Like the volume’s essayists who explore Khomeini’s “Last Will and Testament,” techno-optimism, the Great American Novel, judicial opinions, and more, I too find unconventionally religious material particularly productive for theological inquiry. My photos of anything from neighborhood pubs to barber shops, minibus upholstery, and vehicle decals in Ghana are yet another way of “making visible the complex and deeply ambivalent religious logics, both implicit and explicit, at work in the various discourses of American exceptionalism” around the world today (Theologies, 4).

Whatever “America” may be—to Ghanaians, to anyone else—it is arguably a religious project. And its contributors hail from all around the world, past, present, and future.
-Emily Stratton
In addition to decals made in the likeness of the Adidas logo and Nike swooshes filled by the stripes of the German Flag and “Freedom” inscriptions decorating this taxi, a custom one-way transparency decal is featured on its rear window: an iconic image of (white) Jesus backed by the US flag and two further inscriptions, “No Shaking” and “No Shaging.” The latter is presumably a typo for “No Shaking,” a colloquial phrase indicating that there is no need for worry. January 19, 2020. Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra.
Lots to unpack in this custom decal, positioned above the driver’s side headlight on the hood of an intercity minibus. US Flag, bald eagle, military dog tags, a Purple Heart, and the inscriptions, “In God We Trust” and “U.S.A.” July 29, 2020. Lapaz, Accra.
The “God is Great” rear window inscription on this intracity minibus is sandwiched between images representing, on the left side, the Ghanaian flag, and on the right side, the US flag. Although difficult to tell in this photo, the blue corner of the US flag image has “USA” written diagonally within it, with one star above and one star below it. July 17, 2020. Lapaz, Accra.
This decal—a (white) Jesus in a crown of thorns, accompanied by the inscription “In God We Trust”—like many Jesus decals, is placed on the interior of a minibus windshield, backing the government-required vehicle registration, insurance, and licensing decals affixed to the vehicle exterior. July 24, 2020. Chantan, Accra.
This vehicle—decorated with multiple (white) Jesus decals, a “Galations 6:17” inscription, and a decal featuring the Ghanaian flag, a bald eagle overlay, and the phrase “In God We Trust”—is stuck traffic after a long day of slow-driving up and down residential streets selling herbal supplements and marketing them to potential buyers through pre-recorded product advertisements projected through the megaphones mounted up top. March 4, 2020. Akweteyman, Accra.
The dash to this shared taxi features two decals. Up top, “Thank you Jesus.” Down below, a decal representing the US Navy, including a bald eagle carrying an anchor (emblematic of the Navy’s Coat of Arms), the motto “Honor, Courage, Commitment,” and “Est. 1775.” March 4, 2020. Location undocumented, somewhere in Accra.
The rear windows to this intercity minibus each feature US-centric one-way transparency decals backed by US flags and the inscription “The Great.” On the left, a bald eagle overlay. On the right, the Great Seal of the United States. January 28, 2020. 37 Military Hospital, Accra.
On the side door to this intercity minibus is a reflector decal featuring the word “Love” filled by the iconic stars and stripes. Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra. January 5, 2020. 
Perched in front of an evangelical megachurch at a busy suburban intersection is a small “container store” barbershop made from repurposing industrial shipping containers. The barbershop, “Powerful Hair Cut,” is painted with the iconic stars and stripes. Baah Yard, Accra. January 1, 2020.
Competing for space at a busy intersection are two banners. Up top, an advertisement for a business made from helping international visa applicants prepare required documents, submit their applications and, pending how far an applicant may get along the way, coaching and consulting services for how to interact during visa interviews. Sharing space with the Canadian flag, the rest of the banner’s background includes an image of the Statue of Liberty and the US Flag. Down below, an advertisement for a Pentecostal-Charismatic revival event hosted by a nearby church. October 24, 2019. Lapaz, Accra.
The seats to this intercity minibus are covered in a popular vinyl option: a US flag and faux newspaper collage print. September 21, 2019. Lapaz, Accra.
The rear windows to this intercity minibus feature one-way transparency decals. On the left, a bald eagle backed by a US flag. On the right, a popular image of (white) Jesus. December 24, 2018. Nyamekye Junction, Accra. 
This iconic, but now demolished, neighborhood pub once sported bright green exteriors and US flag curtains. December 3, 2018. Nii Boiman, Accra.
This large reflective decal on the back of an intercity minibus is quite an eye-catcher with its cross and two pyramids—or geometrically shaped hills? Or mountains?—overlaying a backdrop—land and sky?—made from the iconic stars and stripes. July 8, 2018. Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra.
The shelves of this mobile, roadside bookshop are lined by paperback titles comparable to those sold by any other itinerant book vendor or mobile book seller common throughout minibus stations, traffic interchanges, and open-air markets in Accra: American-authored (Christian) self-help predominates. June 1, 2016. Lapaz, Accra.
The entire exterior of this minibus has been covered in a custom decal: the iconic stars and stripes with “Jah Bless” inscriptions dotted throughout. On its windows—those visible as much as those not seen in the picture—are decals featuring Shatta Wale, the Ghanaian celebrity Dancehall musician and the Adidas logo. December 20, 2020. Berekuso, Eastern Region, Ghana.