Recognised around the world in either its blue-white and red-white varieties, this once-nameless bag in West Africa has long been especially popular in markets across the region. Nigerian photographer Obinna Obioma is using creative ways to display an iconic West African plastic bag to reflect on migration.
But when in the 1980s hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, most of them Ghanaians, hurriedly stuffed their belongings into them after being given short notice to leave Nigeria, it became known as Ghana Must Go. Easily foldable to fit inside the pocket and with an uncanny ability to manufacture an extra inch of space for one more item, the bag was favored by the desperately departing Ghanaians.
Since then, no-one has asked to be given “that woven matted bag” at the market, they just ask for a Ghana Must Go – a phrase that is also used in Ghana, despite the painful memories it stirs for some. These bags have transcended their courier status and are used as a personified symbol of migration – “being used to carry not just belongings but also culture, heritage, and memories.
Teaming up with Chioma Obiegbu, a Nigerian visual artist and designer based in New York, and fashion stylist Wuraola Oladapo, they create pieces which Obioma describes as a fusion of both western and African designs. “In some of the two-piece designs, the top is heavily influenced by western fashion aesthetics while the skirt was designed to mirror a West African wrapper. “There’s also a gele [headpiece] which is traditionally identified as an African fashion statement,” he said.
Born in Nigeria, he was first introduced to photography by his enthusiast father who took pictures at family outings and birthdays. “I have found myself using photography to explore the human condition. Particularly issues pertaining to identity, culture and African heritage,” he said. Obioma however wonders if it is time to drop the Ghana Must Go moniker. “I believe Ghana Must Go can be categorized as a derogatory slur which of course transcends Ghanaian nationals. “This begs to ask the question, should the name be changed, or the bags discontinued?” he asked.