Ataa Oko was born around 1919 in the coastal town of La, Ghana. He never went to school, but worked since he was about 13 years old as a fisherman. Later his family sent him on the cocoa plantations in the Ashante Region. From 1936 to 1939 he was trained as a carpenter in Accra. From 1939 to 1970 he worked in numerous temporary employments.
According to Regula Tschumi, Ataa Oko started to build figurative coffins around 1945. He had been inspired by the figurative palanquins he had seen in Accra. These palanquins were used by the Ga chiefs already at the beginning of the 20th century. The palanquins were built in the form of the respective family symbols which the Ga chiefs were using. Around 1960 Ataa Oko opened his own coffin and palanquin workshop in La.
The last years of his life, Ataa Oko was retired and hardly built coffins any more. But since 2005 he became a painter in collaboration with Regula Tschumi. Ataa Oko's coffins and drawings were first exhibited in the group show "Six Feet Under" at the Kunstmuseum Berne 2006 and 2010/11 he had first one-man show in the well known Collection de l'art brut in Lausanne. Ataa Oko died in Accra in December 2012.
Single and group exhibitions
- 2017. ANO Gallery Accra: "Accra: Portraits of A City".
- 2014. MUT Museum of the University Tübingen: "Diesseits-Jenseits-Abseits".
- 2012. MEN Musée ethnographique Neuchâtel Hors-Champs.
- 2011/12. Miracles of Africa, Hämeenlinna Art Museum, Hämeenlinna and Oulu Museum of Art, Oma, Finland
- 2011. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich. Ghanaian 'fantasy coffin', 27 September 2011 - 4 December 2011. Griff Rhys Jones.
- 2010/11. Collection de l'art brut, Lausanne. One-man show Ataa Oko et les Esprits.
- 2006 and 2007/2008. Kunstmuseum Bern and Deutsches Hygienemuseum, Dresden. Exhibition Six Feet Under: Autopsie unseres Umgangs mit Toten.
Figurative palanquin, drawing of Ataa Oko 2009
- 2017. Regula Tschumi, Ataa Oko. A glimpse inside the amazing world of Ghanaian funerals and how the carpenter Ataa Oko became an artist, online magazine Interwoven: the fabric of things.
- 2014. Regula Tschumi: Concealed Art. The figurative palanquins and coffins of Ghana. Edition Till Schaap, Bern. ISBN 978-3-03828-099-6.
- 2014. Regula Tschumi: The buried treasures of the Ga: Coffin art in Ghana. Edition Till Schaap, Bern. ISBN 9783038280163. A revised and updated second edition of "The buried treasures of the Ga", Bern: Benteli 2008.
- 2013. Regula Tschumi "The Figurative Palanquins of the Ga. History and Significance", in: African Arts, Vol. 46, Nr. 4, 2013, pp. 60-73.
- 2012/13. Hors-Champs. Ed. Musée d'Ethnographie Neuchâtel MEN. Neuchâtel: Atélier PréTexte, pp. 200–203, (French).
- 2012. "Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne", Lucienne Peiry (ed.), Skira Flammarion 2012, pp. 26-27; 164. (French)
- 2010. Regula Tschumi, "The Deathbead of a Living Man. A Coffin for the Centre Pompidou". in: Saâdane Afif (ed.), Anthologie de l'humour noir, Paris: Editions Centre Pompidou, p. 56–61.
- 2010. Ataa Oko. Exhibition catalogue. ed. Collection de l'art brut. Gollion: Infolio. (French).
- 2006. Regula Tschumi, "Last Respects, First Honoured. Ghanaian Burial Rituals and Figural Coffins" in: Kunstmuseum Bern (ed.), Six Feet Under. Autopsy of Our Relation to the Dead. Ex.-Cat. Bielefeld, Leipzig: Kerber, pp. 114–125.
- 2010. Ataa Oko and the spirits. Philippe Lespinasse, Regula Tschumi, Andress Alvarez. Lausanne/Le Tourne, Parti de l’Art Brut/ LoKomotiv Films, 20 minutes, (subtitled).
- 2009. Sépulture sur mesure, 52 minutes movie on the work of the Ga funerals, of the coffins of Ataa Oko Ado and Eric Adjetey Anang (Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop). Philippe Lespinasse, Grand Angle Production.
- Sujet à polémique
- Regula Tschumi: "The Figurative Palanquins of the Ga. History and Significance", in: African Arts, Vol. 46, Nr. 4, 2013, pp. 60-73.
- Ataa Oko, exhibition catalogue, 2010, ed. Collection de l'art brut, Lausanne.
- ARS 11, Nykytaiteen museo Kiasma Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art. Artists: Ataa Oko, 1919, Ghana, Collection de l'art brut, Lausanne. Franck Lundangi, 1958, Angola, Artist’s own collection, Briare. Ghana Posters, Hand painted movie posters, Pascal Saumade’s collection, Paris; Paul Amar, 1919, Algeria. From 15 April to 27 November 2011. Mannerheiminaukio 2, Helsinki. www.kiasma.fi. SATELLITE EXHIBITION "Stars of Africa": Hämeenlinna Art Museum. From 20 May to 11 September 2011. OMA – Oulu Museum of Art. From 24 September 2011 to 8 January 2012. Curators: Tuula Karjalainen, Ph.D., curator; Laurent Danchin, art critic, journalist, curator;