Dancing Queen in Little Accra is the largest piece of work I’ve created so far. It’s 7 feet by 5 feet. My inspiration for this work is a pair of sneakers created by Nike.
Let me tell you the story. In the fall of 2022, as part of Nike’s fortieth anniversary celebration of its Air Force One shoes, the company decided to spotlight a community in the Bronx in New York City called Little Accra. This community can be found around 167th street in NYC and it is made up of Ghanaian immigrants. Accra is the capital city of Ghana in West Africa, so it’s not surprising that this enclave of Ghanaian immigrants is called Little Accra. Nike gave this special anniversary edition of Air Force 1’s the same name -Little Accra.
The shoes Nike created has several features which drew me to it. For example, the Little Accra Air Force one features satin textiles in addition to leather. Also, it employs elaborate gold embroidery details all over the shoes and the name “Little Accra” embroidered on the heel tabs.
The colors reflect Ghanaian cuisine of red/curry, habanero red/orange, creamy coconut milk, and pale yellow. In the insoles, there’s an inscription that reads “building communities” and “sharing stories”. And then there’s the incorporation of two Adinkra symbols on the dubraes (the metal through which the shoelaces are threaded.
How it Fits into my Body of Work
If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll see why I was so excited about the Little Accra Air Force ones. A lot of the design features reflect my own art practice. Starting from the vibrant textile colors, to the embroidery, right down to the use of Adinkra Symbols for storytelling. Nike got help with the design from Abdul Karim Abdullah, who is the co-founder of a large annual cultural festival which takes place in Ghana called Afrofuture. Abdullah’s Ghanaian heritage and his intimate knowledge of the culture is evident in his design choices. The collaboration between these two is what birthed the iconic Little Accra sneakers.
As a Ghanaian immigrant myself, I wanted to amplify the story behind this pair of sneakers. I wanted to join in the celebration of this community. However, I knew that Nike’s goal of celebrating the stories of this community through these shoes can only go so far. So, I decided to create a piece of artwork inspired by the shoes to share with my own audience. To me, it’s an iconic piece of footwear and I needed to memorialize it.
The Creation Process
Firstly, I designed a collection of fabrics to use for this portrait. I created my fabric designs to highlight the features of the shoes which reflect the Ghanaian community. I focused on the color scheme, the name Little Accra, and the two Adinkra symbols – Sankofa and Nserewa.
As I often do here, let me explain what the two Adinkra symbols in this design mean. Sankofa is a symbol of a bird with its feet turned forward while its head is turned backwards reaching for an egg. The symbol loosely means learn from the past to influence the future. The second symbol is called “Nserewa”. It’s shaped like cowries. Cowries played a significant role in the lives of our ancestors in times past. They were used as jewelry, hair ornaments, for spiritual rituals, and at some point as money. Nserewa therefore symbolizes wealth, abundance, and prosperity or well being.
More about the Little Accra Fabric Collection
Meanwhile, in designing my fabric collection, I wanted to create a cohesive collection that’ll reflect the culture of the people with regards to fashion as well as one that includes the featured design elements in the shoes. This was the first “fabric collection” I’d created for one of my portraits. I usually create single designs. However, I really enjoyed the collection creation process and look forward to doing more of such projects. I had a lot of clothing to create, not just clothing for the top but for the bottom as well. This is because this is my first creation of a full-standing figurative work. As a result, I knew creating an entire fabric collection was the way to go with this piece.
The Final Artwork
Finally, in terms of the story I wanted to tell with this piece of work, I wanted to depict the hybridity of someone living in Little Accra- the combination of the culture of their African heritage and their everyday American life. In doing so, I chose to show a woman in an African dancing pose – slightly bent knees, shoulders raised, and hand gestures. Certainly, music and dancing is an integral part of our heritage. Also, I styled the clothing to reflect African fashion styles. The patchwork in the jacket and pants are very reminiscent of the ways in which fabrics are combined and coordinated in African fashion. She wears the Little Accra shoes and in the background are the colors of the Ghanaian flag – red, yellow, green. Additionally, I incorporated the colors of the American flag – red, white and blue to complete the story.
So, here you have it, Dancing Queen in Little Accra. I’ve nicknamed it DQ in LA. It joins The Joy of Living Series