What are Abonsam Cartoons?
Growing up in a black or African household, did you ever feel like you could ask questions about sex from adults? Yeah, didn’t think so! The attitude towards sex in many African communities is often from a negative perspective. Demonizing sex has limited access to sex education. As a result, many young boys huddle up in the corners of their schools to learn about sex from Abonsam cartoons.
Abonsam cartoons literally means “devilish cartoons” and figuratively means pornography in a local Ghanaian slang.
Abonsam cartoons, the name of Bright Ackwerh’s ongoing project draws a parallel between cultural attitudes towards sex, and politics. His illustrations won him the Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian art in 2016. They also caught him quite some heat with the Chinese embassy to Ghana.
How do we dissect Bright Ackwerh’s illustrations?
He usually insinuates several themes in his images. So, depending on who is looking, the seemingly straightforward image can mean different things. The intended meaning usually lies in the minuscule details that may easily be overlooked. For instance, the image of Mugabe having a good time with the Queen, Major Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah (the Queen’s equerry), and Chef Elijah Amoo Addo who was awarded the Commonwealth prize, could be interpreted as a flip on gender roles.
In reality, the Queen invited Chef Elijah Amoo to cook for her and the chef said he would cook her waakye (a local rice dish, being served in the illustration) which caused an uproar in Ghana. The queen also appointed Major Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah as her first black equerry.
All of this took place in the year Ghana turned 60. This specific illustration brings up our historical ties to the West and raises questions about our independence. The spice bottles next Mugabe have small inscribing of words equating to “laxative” on them. The laxative seems to be a key ingredient in the Queen’s waakye. I mean why else would Mugabe take joy in cooking for the queen?
Can’t get enough of Bright?
Pieces from Abonsam’s cartoons are currently showing in a group show at Absa Gallery in Johannesburg as a part of L’Atelier competition. Bright has also been recently expanding access to his work, venturing out to the streets. In the streets, he competes with politicians and priests to enlighten marginalised and deprived members of society, who may not have access to the internet or a gallery. Some may say that this new way of outreach cheapens Bright’s work, but to him, the most important thing is to ignite political thinking among the general public. In the same way, pornography lifted the veil from sex for many Ghanaian youths, Abonsam cartoons lifts the veil from politics for many Ghanaians and Africans.