Think about Ghana and you see the Kanto batiq print in your mind. The Pothi team profiles Dr. Abraham Ekow Asmah, the man behind the Kanto
From the early ages, great thinkers and inventors have constantly shaped our society by inventing a new product or process that solves a technical problem. It is, generally agreed that society benefits from the work of its members.
Artists and inventors with their unique characteristics, increase people’s efficiency to work by making life easier than before and affects their way of doing things. We have grown so used to the things that we often do not think of them as inventions. The clothes we wear, the chair we sit on. All of these are inventions made by a human mind.
Today, we profile Dr Abraham Ekow Asmah, a native of Kromantse, a few miles from Cape Coast. He is currently a senior lecturer at the Department of Integrated Rural Art and Industry (IRAI) Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, and an examiner of National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI). An advocator for national design policy in Ghana from 2000 to date, he has published over 50 papers and supervised over 200 theses, projects and reports.
He invented the Kanto and Asoo batik techniques and localised the discharge print paste for traditional printing. He has over 30 years of professional art and teaching experience in different spheres of his academic and working endeavour.
His creativity in African arts and design has paved the way for varied substrate colouration applications on fabrics, leather, cement wall, wood and clay.
It all started in the year 2000, when discharge printing was prevalent in the country specifically in Kumasi, Ashanti region, Ghana. Due to lack of imported discharge print paste, discharge-printing fabrics made then, were hand drawn prints designed with brush and a liquid discharge solution. The resultant of these prints was horrible and unprofessional with haloing images — a thin white image appearing around the discharge print.
Others reveal partial discharge facing of unprinted area of the dyed background with loss of consistency of the mixture. This disturbing trend gave birth to a locally formulated print paste whose objective was to give sharp-edged images on the fabric printed and to achieve accurate print definitions of design outlines.
This injected a new impetus of enquiry into batik undefined coloured image prints. Through various exploration and experimentation, the Kanto batik print was born. This formulation was out of vat dye ingredients, mixed with cassava-powdered starch, integrated with batik technique, using the screen-printing technique to attain a precise and accurate definite colour outline image on the designed fabric when applied. This technique is now used on wood, pottery and leather substrates.
With the current intertwining of art and technology, traditional ideas, rules, and have given space to meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, originality, progressiveness, and imagination.
In his last open elective 2020 workshop in National Institute of Design (NID) India, students were made to experience a taste of Kanto technique under the topic ‘Appropriate Technology towards Responsive Design and Construction’.
He feels batik techniques meticulously integrated with other techniques could be an effective means to provide alternate and unlimited opportunities for artists to explore its maximum economic benefits.
This new hybridised tradition opened a new territory for Kanto prints in Ghana and brought out a new artistic and entrepreneurial opportunity for the country. In fact, his contribution to the promotion of design, education, inventions and enhanced operational functionalities in weaving and fabric colouration are well recognised among many traditional weavers and local dyers in Ghana.
At the international front, his relevance has been seen in the craft sector like the Design Intervention for Basketry Craft and Empowerment of Rural Women, Ghana & Ethiopia, December 2013. Workshop on Designing the Difference with collaboration with ATAG and NID under the India-Africa Basket Design Initiative, and the Department of Integrated Rural Art and Industry, KNUST, Kumasi, 2015.