Theologies Exhibit

In my work at large, I consider a city’s visual and material culture to be both reflective and generative of social norms, identities, and conceptions of world (including cosmological) order. In Accra and elsewhere in Ghana, “America” is abundant. The hand-painted exteriors of small shops, wares hawked at roadside markets, bumper stickers, and the logos and mottos used in local branding often feature anything from the iconic stars and stripes to appropriations of the phrase “In God We Trust.” Shot in Accra’s western suburbs between 2016 and 2020, the photos in this exhibit showcase such scenes. The photos are intended, however, to help us look beyond thinking of “America”-centric images, objects, and inscriptions as mere expressions of fandom or migration dreams. What else might they, and their materiality, reveal about world order and Ghana’s place therein?
The photos in this exhibit are also intended to help us look beyond thinking of cultural texts as communicating definitive, decipherable messages. In the case of vehicle decals, in particular, “America”-centric image designs are often intermixed or juxtaposed with additional--and seemingly disparate--symbols and inscriptions, be they rooted in Christianity, indigenous traditions, designer brands and commodities, or anything else. What kinds of social, economic, political, and theological work might these cryptic combinations be doing? Taking cues from Ato Quayson’s (2014) work on Ghanaian inscription culture, I find it productive to consider these decal arrangements as discursive prompts. More than expressing social commentary in and of themselves, they provide public fodder for discussing critically what “America” is, and what relationships--real, imagined, and desired--it has, and ought to have, to Ghana(aians).
-Emily Stratton
The exteriors, awning, and interior decor to this suburban fashion boutique are decked out, floor to ceiling, in the iconic stars and stripes. Abeka, Accra. July 27, 2016.
With its visual citation of the Statue of Liberty and individualized adaptation of the phrase “In God We Trust,” this office building’s branding evokes US-centric themes. Weija, Greater Accra. September 15, 2017.
Should it be difficult to see, the eagle’s wings on this vehicle decal and inscription combination evoke the red, white, and blue patterns of the US flag, including white stars. Lapaz, Accra. May 17, 2018.
The shape overlaying the US flag on this vehicle decal is the “Gye Nyame” symbol, one of the most popular and widely used of Ghana’s Adinkra symbols (Akan indigenous symbols that represent key cultural values, myths, and proverbs). “Gye Nyame,” translating into English as “God Alone” or “Only God,” generally serves as a symbol of the sovereignty of God, the Supreme Being. The “Gye Nyame” symbol in this decal also has its own filler print, matching the red, yellow, and green stripes of the Ghana flag. These colors, too, can represent pan-Africanism. Omanjor, Accra. May 17, 2018.
Hardly an uncommon sight, the standard, plain-black upholstered seats in this minibus have been capped with protective covers made from US flag-print vinyl fabric. Lapaz, Accra. May 18, 2018.
Hiding in plain sight, the logo to one of Ghana’s oldest and most widely distributed brands of sachet-style drinking water features the phrase “In God we trust.” Lapaz, Accra. October 15, 2018.
The rear window inscription on the right side of this intercity minibus features the Twi language version of the phrases, “The Lord is my Keeper,” and “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Nyamekye Junction, Accra. March 8, 2019.
This shipping container-turned-barbershop, perched on a hilly area in suburban Accra, has exteriors hand-painted in the image of a US flag. Agape, Accra. March 24, 2019.
Two decals placed side by side on the interior of a minibus windshield. Tabora, Accra. April 9, 2019.
A syncretic sticker applied to the rearview mirror of a minibus. Lapaz, Accra. August 3, 2019.
Should the flash reflection make this vehicle decal difficult to read, it features the image of (white) Jesus overlaying a US Flag. The text inscriptions, albeit partially cut off by the decal’s circular framing, read “High Spirit,” “Still High Spirit,” and “U.S.A.” Lapaz, Accra. September 15, 2019.
Closed for business on a quiet Sunday, the doors to one of the shops in this commercial building display hand-painted US-flag designs. Bubuashie, Accra. October 13, 2019.
This minibus has two flags suctioned to its windshield: one representing the United States, and the other, Asante Kotoko, one of Ghana's premier football (soccer) clubs. Draped between the rearview mirror and flags is a rosary. Darkuman, Accra. October 13, 2019.
This faded, partially chipped vehicle decal has seen better days. Should its design be difficult to make out, it includes the image of a bald eagle in flight, backed by the US flag to the left and the Ghana flag to the right, while clutching in its talons a banner that reads “Unity is Strength.” Lapaz, Accra. November 17, 2019.
Should the flash reflection obscure too much, the top left inscription to this minibus decal combination reads “Do Not Ask, Shoot First.” Akweteyman, Accra. March 4, 2020.
The black shape in the center of the star on this commonly seen vehicle decal is the silhouette of the Ghana Coat of Arms. Who, or what, is the star of which nation? Lapaz, Accra. March 8, 2020.