Hey Woman! : Poetra Asantewa on Ghanaian Fashion, Art and Feminism

POETRA ASANTEWA at the Asabaako Beach & Music Festival in March 2015, photo by @DiQueku.

By Animle Oyankah

Ama Asantewa Diaka aka Poetra Asantewa has long been a force to reckon with in Ghana’s creative scene.  She’s certainly become a crowd favorite at the annual Sabolai Radio and a number of live poetry and music venues across the city.

The poet, songstess, teacher and fashion designer has as many trades as new ideas about the future of Ghana’s art industry. Earlier this month, Asantewa’s label, Alikoto Clothing, was one of six emerging designs featured in a fashion show capping Vlisco’s month-long celebration of women, entitled Live the Dream.

We chopped it up with Asantewa to hear more about her travails through design, art and feminism.

Alikoto Clothing, "The Stylized Lily Collection" at the Vlisco "Live Your Dream" event in Accra, April 11 2015.

Alikoto Clothing, “The Stylized Lily Collection” at the Vlisco “Live Your Dream” event in Accra, April 11 2015.

ADA: How is Alikoto Clothing faring in the ready-to-wear market in Ghana? 

PA: The fashion industry in Ghana leans more towards customized designs than ready to wear outfits mainly because of production cost. Local designers are gradually doing more ready to wear outfits but it’s on a smaller scale. Alikoto Clothing does both ready to wear outfits and customized designs for clients.

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ADA: The old fabric designs from the 1950s – 70s and to some extent the 80s, held a lot more mystique compared to what we see on the market currently. What do you think about this?

PA: Fashion is always evolving. Each era has its own character, attitude or influence. Ghanaian / African fashion has undergone a complete overhaul because of globalization. Ultimately, we borrow from the past, present and the future to create new designs.

There’s a lot of appropriation of African designs by, particularly, western-based fashion houses. Would love your thoughts on that and how it affects designers from this part of the world.

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International fashion houses have been feeding off African designs for a while now, and even though output from African designers are more authentic and dynamic, these houses achieve commercial success. They have the machinery, the capacity, the platforms and the people. They are bound to reel in more profits than local designers. But in the end, we are responsible for our collective successes.

African print has survived many eras. There will always be a future for African print. Within the last five years, the African fabric and culture as a whole has been in vogue in the fashion industry. Therefore, as local designers, we need to stay true to our art and culture.

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ADA: You are creating art outside of fashion lately. What’s that transition about and what have you created so far?

PA: I come from a very artsy family, and I studied a bit of art in school, so I wouldn’t say it’s so much of a transition. Rather, an awakening of an old flame. I have been working on, and will be exhibiting a textual art / visual installation in collaboration with Serge Attukwei Clottey, titled “Hey Woman!”

The objective of “Hey Woman!” is to praise, encourage, question, criticize and celebrate the essence of what it means to be a woman in Ghanaian communities. “Hey Woman!” highlights the opinions and perceptions of feminism by both men and women in Ghana…the perceptions of women and the celebration of women.

Poetra Asantewa works with Serge Attukwei Clottey on "Hey Woman!" installation.

Poetra Asantewa works with Serge Attukwei Clottey on “Hey Woman!” installation.

ADA: If you could place Ghana in an alternative universe, what would it look and feel like?

PA: Much more developed. With a system that benefits all. Selfless leadership, the creative arts highly valued, highly developed and one of the nation’s cash cows. Feminism is not a label people are terrified to be associated with, and we produce dope ass chocolate at an affordable price.

Poetra Asantewa works on "Hey Woman!"

Poetra Asantewa works on “Hey Woman!”

ADA: Do you identify as a feminist? If so, tell us about being a feminist artist.

PA: I do identify as a feminist. I hope in the future the concept of feminism is so clear and embracing that it is no longer a concept, but a natural phenomenon.

Each person has an equal role to play for the system to work. Except this is not present throughout every aspect of the power structure. Yes, the system is working to a point, but if everybody is entitled to the same rights and liberties and can be intellectual equals regardless of gender, surely we can do better as country.

But as it is now, identifying yourself as a feminist means someone is going to see you either as a loud or disgruntled or unreasonable or a promiscuous woman who wants an excuse to be an ass and get away with it.

Identifying as a feminist artist, means in some places, people will work with you like they’re walking on eggshells. It also means there’ll be somewhere nobody frankly gives a rat’s ass. The rule is to know your worth and stay true to yourself.

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