Master mask maker of Ghana | #doingyourbit | DW | 22.03.2017
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Master mask maker of Ghana

African masks have a history almost as long as the continent to which they belong, but an artist in Ghana has given them a whole new twist by making them out of waste. Meet the inimitable Ed Franklin Gavua.

When he speaks, Ed Franklin Gavua delivers his message with equal measures of consideration and determination.

"Every day, I put a bag in my pocket or take a basket with me in case I see something that gives me the message it can be used for education."

The educational tools he is referring to are dead leaves, old cardboard boxes and some "interesting and challenging" items of waste which he says seem to dare him to pick them up to use in his wild and wonderful alternative African masks.

It all began in 1995, when he "saw the first mask" in his mind, and heard the "Voice of Waste", which is the name he gave his expansive collection, for the first time.

That personal foray into the world of trash transformation has, over the years, become an almost full-time occupation, and his work adorns the walls of private homes, offices, hotels and galleries in Africa, Europe and America.

Mash for masks

The basic substance of the Yiiiiikakaii masks, as they are called, is a paste that Gavua makes by mixing shredded and ground leaves and card with tree glue. He sometimes even peppers the mush with pieces of old plastic bags. The main thing is that all components have been discarded, be it by nature or human hand.

"My art work is used to create awareness for people to rethink how the waste they or their community makes, is used."

Ed Franklin Gavua holding a mask

The artist and his collection

He sees his masks as a means of stimulating debate and drawing attention to the very real problem of managing rubbish in his native Ghana. 

"The main problem is a lack of eduction in our schools and in our homes," he said, adding the authorities don't do enough to create an infrastructure that encourages the population to be more mindful of how they dispose of trash.

His contribution to a solution is to offer community and school workshops, which he says are well received.

"Children are always happy to see me," he said, "because they have the chance to try their hand at something creative." 

But he would like to see the government follow his lead and teach school children how they can not only manage but how they can effectively use garbage to generate an income. 

"It's an everyday adventure." 

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