“Any time you see yellow, it represents water... And any time you see the gallon, it represents struggle.”
– Serge Attukwei Clottey
Despite Ghana’s wealth of water, less than 10 per cent of people in the capital city of Accra have reliable in-house taps, and less than half have even a shared tap on their property. So what do people do when they have to shower or wash dishes? Many buy water from their neighbours who are connected to the city network, and they usually buy them in a unit that Ghana has taken as its own: Kufuor gallons, which are actually 20- or 25-litre yellow plastic containers originally used to store cooking oil.
Named after John Agyekum Kufuor, the president of Ghana from 2001 to 2009 (a time when the water shortage was particularly bad), the gallons are an important and Ghana-centric part of the complex water economy. Like sachets, they are impossible to miss when walking around any part of Accra.
Serge Attukwei Clottey, a young artist who lives in the Labadi Beach area of Accra, uses Kufuor gallons as his artistic material. He takes old gallons and turns them into art, either by cutting them into pieces or by using the tops of them as masks, which he wears in photos or on the street. The circular opening of the gallon looks like a human mouth, while the handle is the nose, and when separated from the basin they resemble traditional Ghanaian masks.
But, Clottey asks, “What if, in the future, Ghana has water?” The gallons are only special because of Ghana’s water shortage, so he uses broken gallons – which are essentially waste – to build functional things: a chair, a mask, a rug, a roof. With his creations, Clottey is preparing for a theoretical future in which Ghanaians no longer have to go hunting for water.