Raphael Mayne’s Art, a call to rediscover Adinkra cloth

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The artist RAAM at AKAA Paris
The Artist Raphael Adjetey Mayne (RAAM) at AKAA Fair in Paris. Left: Lamely, 2017 Right: Take Me Serious, 2017

It’s been few months since AKAA fair in Paris where I met the Ghanaian artist Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne – shortened to RAAM, his artist’s signature.

Mayne found his calling very early on as a child. He spent his childhood drawing on anything he could find. Later, he honed his skills while attending the Ghanatta college of Art and Design in Accra. Now as an adult, he mixes the drawing skills with sewing, a skill he taught himself 14 years ago. The combination of these two skill sets: drawing and sewing are the foundation for his artwork today.

His artworks are striking and showcase his unique style: portraits of people dressed in a sewn patchwork of African wax prints over a background of Adinkra symbols (more on that later). One of the paintings selected for the Parisian fair is a self-portrait. He is dressed in one of his custom made T-Shirts – against a backdrop of similar symbols. The Adinkra symbols are omnipresent in his work. (His previous artwork used to feature only Adinkra Symbols.) Additionally, he created a special one; four small circles arranged in a square that represents his family – He is one of four boys. His work is steeped in family and his Ghanaian culture. That, he says, is his “inspiration”. He tries to convey to the world “how beautiful [he] sees the world of his culture, as an African”.

Quote by Raphael Adjetey Mayne

One of the hallmarks of Ghanaian culture is a very rich textile tradition. Although Kente is the most famous one, there are at least 4 to 5 other traditional textiles made and or woven in Ghana – Adinkra is one of them. Adinkra is said to be “the only African printing textile” that predates colonization. It features a series of small symbols that carry specific meanings. Three are recurrent in Mayne’s paintings: the Adinkra symbols of love and care, strength and perseverance and finally wisdom and creativity. These symbols stand in the background, as a visual and permanent reminder of a rich craftsmanship and textile heritage. A heritage that is under threat not only from the rise of the wax prints but also the ongoing cultural shift. The juxtaposition of the wax prints over the Adinkra symbols evoke simply and efficiently the dilemma facing several African cultures caught between present and past, modernity and tradition.


Adinkra Symbols details of Take me serious
Adinkra Symbols: from left to right: Love & Care, Perseverance & Wisdom , Details of Take Me Serious, RAAM, 2017

The artworks are undoubtedly a declaration of love of the artist for his family and his heritage. People painted by RAAM are often standing proud, hands on hips. Even in ordinary scenes of family life, he insists he wants to show people “how beautiful our cloths, makes us” and “our beauty as Africans”. If the world was not taking notice before, I am sure it is now.

Mayne’s work will be on show with Artco Gallery at the Cape Town Art Fair from February 16th to February 18th 2018.

Thank you for reading.  The discussion about African Art, Design & Textiles continues online on our social media channels. See you there. 

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