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Adinkra: West African Traditional Artisan Handicraft Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Glenn E. Lewis

This submission pertains to an on-going multi-year project based in Ghana, West Africa with subject areas specific to traditional artisan handicraft design practice and digital technologies.
     This study focuses on the development of apprentice artisans trained with technology and adopting the methodology to enhance traditional handicraft practices through collaboration with master artisans.
     The project is limited to the traditional handicraft discipline of Adinkra, exemplifying the unique palette of graphic symbolism embedded within the Akan culture of West Africa. With the aid of technology, traditional graphic symbols are transformed into an artifact that serves as a digital design tool for artisans and a commodity for tourist trade and international distribution.
     Art is a very important part of the Akan culture and tradition. Adinkra is a unique cloth that is worn during funerals and at other funeral activities. It is hand-painted, hand-embroidered, and adorned with the Adinkra symbols: these are arranged on the cloth to convey a parting message to the deceased. The Adinkra symbols are an expression of the Akan worldview and offer multilayered meanings and levels of interpretation. They are stamped on varied-colored cloths and symbolize parables, aphorisms, proverbs, popular sayings, historical events, hairstyles, traits of animal behavior or shapes of inanimate or man-made objects.
     The project has employed multiple venues to triangulate sources for penetrating the culture naturalistically through a dual-phased process. Collaboration with the Non-Governmental Arts organization, Aid to Artisan Ghana (ATAG) provided the entrée to the extensive artisans’ network. Technology infusion as assistance to artisans’ product concept development was the first stage of the process. The second phase was penetration of the university artisans’ educational system, with introduction of digital methodologies within the curriculum of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Department of Integrated Rural Arts & Industry.
     The final artifact is an interactive CD-ROM of Adinkra, containing an installable font of the entire collection of graphic symbols, encapsulated postscript files, digital video, and the historical background of the handicraft with and interactive flash interface. It is the sole property of Aid to Artisan Ghana and will be distributed and sold through their network of shops in Ghana and Museums throughout the UK, Canada, and USA. Aid to Artisan Ghana sought and received permission for marketing the CD-ROMs from the Ghanaian Ministry of Culture.

Author Bio(s)

Glenn E. Lewis is professor in the Department of Industrial Design at the North Carolina State University. Prof. Lewis holds BFA and MFA degrees in Communications Art, Sculpture, and M.Pd. in Industrial Design with extensive study in digital technology. Lewis has also served on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.
     In the private sector, he worked as a project designer with both Herman Miller, Inc. and Texas Instruments. He also consulted in multi-media with numerous corporations including Coca Cola and General Motors Pontiac.
     Lewis currently serves as technology consultant in the area of 3d product modeling and rapid prototyping.