Akan art is an art form that originated among the Akan people of West Africa. Akan art is known for vibrant artistic traditions, including textiles, sculpture, Akan goldweights, as well as gold and silver jewelry. The Akan people are known for their strong connection between visual and verbal expressions and a distinctive blending of art and philosophy. Akan culture values gold above all other metals, so the artwork and jewelry made of gold reflects a great deal of value, whether it be made for appearance, artistic expression, or more practical trading purposes.
One of the most popular pieces of Akan art are the Akan goldweights. The gold weights were made of copper, bronze, and brass. They were cast using a method of casting known as lost-wax technique or "cire perdue". Goldweights were created for economic transactions involving gold. Although it is not clear when the convention of weights were first introduced, scholars suggest that the Akan first traded gold with Muslim merchants from the West African interior, long before European contact. Their weight system correspond to the Islamic weight system of North Africa, and appear to be part of early sub-Saharan trade.
The gold weights served a vast amount of roles in their culture and everyday life. Akan goldweights are used as counterbalances on the scales used in gold trade, visual representations of oral tradition, representations of proverbs, as pictographic script in social and political system, and in the knowledge system of the Akan people. Goldweights were used in everyday trade and commerce, as well as in accounting, as a type of fraction or counter. According to the Akan scholar Nitecki, Akan gold weights were "created and used like spoken language to commemorate social or historical events or entities, to express philosophical or religious views, aspirations, and dreams, or simply to ask questions, or to express displeasure". The Akan pyramids were concrete testimonials to how the artist felt about themselves and major life events and dilemmas such as marriage, children, injustice, and personal and statewide conflicts.
There are four major categories of gold weights, based on what was depicted. The first kind of gold weights depict people. The second consist of the local flora and fauna. The third category are likened to man-made objects. The final category are abstract and open for interpretation by individual.
Akan cultural jewelry has a variety of forms. The Akan people make neck-wear, wrist bands, elbow-wear, knee-wear, and ankle-wear. Gender-specific jewelry includes hat pins and headbands for men and earrings and hairpins for the women.
- Akan Goldweights. (1995) Retrieved 9 February 2007 from http://www.fa.indiana.edu/~conner/akan/shape.html.
- Kreft, Linda. Wrapped in Pride- Akan Art and Proverbs. (2004). Retrieved 8 February 2007 from http://www.lindakreft.com/akanart.html.
- Peirce, Susan. Akan Art of Ghana. (2005). Retrieved 9 February 2007 from http://www.canyonlights.com/akanartofghana.html.
- Arthur, G. F. Kojo. Akan Goldweights Symbols. (2001). Retrieved 9 February 2007 from http://www.marshall.edu/akanart/abramo.html. [dead link]
- Arthur, G. F. Kojo. Akan Cultural Symbols Project Online (1998-2001). Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://www.marshall.edu/akanart/.[dead link]
- For spirits and kings: African art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman collection, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Akan art