Creativity
Serge Attukwei Clottey Is Creating a Real-Life Yellow Brick Road in Accra
Courtesy of Serge Attukwei Clottey and Gallery 1957, Accra.

Courtesy of Serge Attukwei Clottey and Gallery 1957, Accra.

What lies at the end of “the yellow brick road?” For Ghanaian artist , the answer is home.
Walk through Clottey’s birthplace of Labadi, a neighborhood in Ghana’s capital of Accra, and you’ll come across his most ambitious public project to date, Yellow Brick Road—a patchwork of yellow plastic squares covering the area’s dirt streets, and occasionally draped over the walls and roofs of huts. An aerial view of the installation shows brilliant golden lines and dots flowing through a maze of grey and brown homes and structures. “For me, it signifies the history of migration—and home,” Clottey explained of the piece.
Clottey drew the project’s name fromthe renowned novel-turned-film The Wizard of Oz, in which the protagonist, Dorothy, finds herself lost in a fantastical, foreign world. The only way back to her native Kansas is to “follow the yellow brick road,” as good witch named Glinda famously tells her. Since the film’s 1939 release, the term “yellow brick road” has come to more generally signify a path leading towards home, comfort, and promise. (In 2009, the renowned talk-show impresario Oprah Winfrey described her many achievements as a “yellow brick road of blessings.”)
Courtesy of Serge Attukwei Clottey and Gallery 1957, Accra.

Courtesy of Serge Attukwei Clottey and Gallery 1957, Accra.

The metaphor resonated with Clottey. His work investigates the history and culture of his own hometown, Accra, and his primary medium, a type of plastic water jug known as a Kufuor gallon, happens to be yellow. He began using the vessels at the beginning of his career, in the early 2000s, when he realized they were not only readily available in Accra’s dumpsites, but also resonated with his interests as an artist—from his country’s history of trade to its people’s daily rituals and struggles.
At their core, the yellow containers once signified Ghana’s trade history: They were originally used to transport cooking oil from the West to Africa. When Clottey was young, however, they’d been repurposed as water jugs during one of the country’s worst water shortages (they were dubbed “Kufuor” gallons, after Ghana’s president at the time). Women, primarily, were tasked with hauling heavy containers of rationed water back to their family homes; their trips could be miles long. The yellow jugs came to represent not just water, but distress, as well.
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The jugs’ yellow hue also carried metaphorical weight for Clottey. Ironically, it reminded him of the gold stripe that zips through the center of the Ghanaian flag, which symbolizes mineral wealth. In this way, he’s come to see the jugs as precious objects that transcend their original purpose.
Clottey has cut up and used the gallon containers to create his signature body of work: intricate yellow tapestries embodying the social history and material culture of his home. (The latest of these works will be on view with Gallery 1957 this December 5th through 9th at Untitled Art, Miami Beach.) It wasn’t until 2012, however, that the artist applied this process, which he’s dubbed “Afrogallonism,” to public projects displayed in the very streets—and for the very people—that motivated his work. “I wanted my community to be able to experience the work their routines inspired,” he said.
He started with ephemeral works: public interventions and performances. On several occasions, Clottey and his assistants donned lipstick and dresses on their journeys to collect jugs, emphasizing the vessel’s gendered history and honoring the work of women who’d transported water to their families and friends. Other times, Clottey hung the plastic tapestries from the sides of homes, accenting the grey city with bright spots of color.
Serge Attukwei Clottey, 360 La (performance), 2018. Photo by Nii Odzenma. Courtesy of Gallery 1957, Accra.

Serge Attukwei Clottey, 360 La (performance), 2018. Photo by Nii Odzenma. Courtesy of Gallery 1957, Accra.

The community’s response was so positive that Clottey began to envision a larger, more permanent project that would become an everyday part of Accra’s landscape—and actively involve its residents. In 2016, he began Yellow Brick Road, a vibrant, ever-growing pathway coursing through the streets of Labadi, past hundreds of homes and under the feets of thousands of Ghanaians.
For Clottey, Yellow Brick Road signifies the history, resilience, and resourcefulness of the Ghanaian people as whole: a patchwork of personal homes, stories, and struggles woven together to build the country’s identity.
Alexxa Gotthardt is a contributing writer for Artsy.