School of Art Welcomes Renowned Ghanaian Artist to Campus

Jacob Paa Joe Jr. at Paa Joe Coffin Works in Ghana.
Provided by the artist

Jacob Paa Joe Jr. at Paa Joe Coffin Works in Ghana.

The School of Art in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences welcomes internationally renowned artist Jacob Paa Joe Jr. to the U of A campus for a two and a half week workshop creating a proverbial coffin, concluding with a procession with the finished coffin and an artist talk on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Paa Joe Jr. apprenticed with his father, legendary coffin artist, Paa Joe, and co-manages Paa Joe Coffin Works in the Greater Accra region of Ghana as a master artist.

Proverbial coffins were popularized in the mid 1950s in southern Ghana communities as a way of honoring the deceased; these vibrant coffins are known around the world today. When created for local use, they illustrate aspects of the deceased's life. A person who worked in the fishing industry may be buried in a coffin shaped like a boat or fish, while an individual who demonstrated bravery in life may be interred in a lion, and a person who amassed great wealth may be buried in a luxury car. 

Assistant professor of art history Janine Sytsma and instructor of art Adam Posnak organized an intersession course to Ghana last May, which included a visit to Paa Joe Coffin Works. 

"We were able to visit and speak with Jacob Paa Joe Jr. and his father about these wonderful receptacles of proverbs," Sytsma said. "It is such an honor to welcome Jacob to Fayetteville, less than one year later. This workshop will provide students with the unique opportunity to work on a coffin with a master artist and learn about Ga community burial practices and related beliefs."

At the Studio and Design Center, Paa Joe Jr.'s workshop is building a Sankofa bird coffin, representing an important Akan principle, adopted in African and African Diaspora communities to convey the importance of looking to the past to determine the best course forward.

Paa Joe Jr.'s proverbial coffins and related miniatures have been exhibited internationally, including most recently in the Chicago Architecture Biennale in 2023. In addition, he has been featured in the documentary Paa Joe and the Lion, directed by Benjamin Wigley, along with international news segments.

His visit, workshop and artist talk is supported by the School of Art art history program. Those interested in scheduling a class visit for the workshop or participating in the procession should reach out to Sytsma at

All are invited to view the procession with the finished coffin at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at the Studio and Design Center, and the artist talk, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at Hillside Auditorium, room 202.




Kayla Crenshaw, director of administration and communications
School of Art


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