Ghana has a real-life yellow brick road that has at least one thing in common with the fictional path named after it.
Just as Dorothy in the story “The Magical Wizard of Oz” had to follow the magical yellow route to find her way back to Kansas, Serge Attukwei Clottey, the artist behind Garner’s “Yellow Brick Road”, was motivated by a desire to be home.
“As an artist, I’m very interested in immigration,” Clottey said on CNN’s original series Nomad. “Not like humans, but migrates like objects.”
As a child, Serge Attukwei Clottey used “gallons” or yellow plastic oil drums to fetch water for his family in Ghana. Now, containers are at the heart of his art. cedit: Nii Odzenma/Courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957
gallons of “bricks”
Clottey grew up using these containers to fetch water for his house before moving into his uncle who had a faucet. But a gallon, which actually holds 20 to 25 liters (or about 6 US gallons), has a different meaning for the Accra-born artist.
“I found them to be usable materials that I could use for a long time. So I put them together like a wall, and I painted on them,” Clottey said recently on CNN’s Voice of Africa.
African Community Building Artists
Soon, the containers began to pile up. “I didn’t have a place to store them, so it became a problem,” he said. He then had the idea of shredding them, which was initially not well received by the local community. “When I started cutting them, the whole community was against because they thought they needed them to survive, and I was getting rid of them, I was destroying them. So it was a complete conflict and I had to involve them in mine The studio and told them it was unsanitary to store water in it.”
He demonstrated the concept by showing the effect of placing a plastic bucket in the sun and filling it with water for a few days. Not only do plastic particles leak into the water, but the high temperatures create breeding grounds for bacteria, making the water potentially unsafe.
When Clottey started cutting plastic buckets, the community was initially unhappy about it. cedit: Nii Odzenma/Courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957
“So they started getting rid of them in their system. It was a gradual process, they got rid of the old ones, they brought them to my studio, they donated some, I had to buy some from them. You know, We trade with them and so on,” he said.
no place like home
Clottey then began cutting plastic buckets and incorporating the pieces into his art, creating his signature yellow tapestries, and using the tops of the cans as masks in the photo, with the circular opening symbolizing a person’s mouth.
In 2016, after cutting hundreds, he started his largest public facility “Yellow Brick Road” in the Badi Beach area of Accra where he grew up.
The pieces were sewn together and then, with the help of locals, used to pave the streets of Labadi. The work was intended to symbolize the community’s resourcefulness and resilience, but its bright borders also highlighted the fact that many local residents, including Clottey’s family, were unable to provide proof of ownership of their homes or land due to a lack of paperwork.
The “yellow brick road” symbolizes the resilience of the community, but also the issue of property rights. cedit: Nii Odzenma/Courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957
“My family relocated from Jamestown to Labadi, they traveled the coast. They traded wine and beef, and based on my family’s trade relationship with labor, they had a place to settle, it was a verbal agreement. There was no documentation,” he said in on the Voice of Africa.
200 years later, property rights issues are still emerging one after another, and the “Yellow Brick Road” serves as a powerful visual reminder.
“I use this work to divide property through installations. Since I started this project, I have had people come out to tell my family’s story, which has created an interesting conversation. Hopefully this can be used to defend family property in court,” Clottey said. “I’m very interested in how people in the surrounding areas of Ghana experience this property conflict, as some properties are inherited by oral agreement without paperwork and documentation. I think that’s a very important part of my project.”