Unpacking the 'Ghana Must Go' Bag's symbolism, evolution and artistic discourse

By Lindelwa Masuku

In the realm of cultural artifacts, the 'Ghana Must Go' bag emerges as a compelling emblem of resilience and migration. From its historical origins to Western appropriation, this article navigates the bag's complex narrative, culminating in an exploration of Wanda Lephoto's 'Me Fie' collection, which encapsulates its profound essence through artistry and design.

The iconic red-white-blue plaid bag, affectionately known as the 'Ghana Must Go' bag, carries a complex narrative that spans across cultural, social, and artistic dimensions. 

Originating from a historically significant event, the bag has become an emblem of migration, identity, and resilience. 

As artists globally engage with its symbolic power, the bag's multifaceted meanings come into focus. 

Wanda Lephoto - Home Affairs - Spring Summer'22

This article delves into the intricate history of the 'Ghana Must Go' bag, its compounded legacy, Western appropriation, and the thought-provoking artistic expression of Wanda Lephoto.

The Compounded and Controversial History of the Bag

The 'Ghana Must Go' bag traces its roots to the mass expulsion of foreign nationals, including Nigerians, by the Ghanaian government in the 1980s. 

These bags were used to carry belongings during this forced migration, hence the name. This event underscores the bag's deep connection to migration, displacement, and the diaspora experience. 

Wanda Lephoto HOME AFFAIRS representation debuting at Lagos Fashion Week

However, it also raises questions about the bag's connotations and the sensitivities surrounding its name. While the bag has evolved into a symbol of resilience for many, its history remains entangled with complex emotions.

The Western Appropriation of the Bag

The 'Ghana Must Go' bag's unique design and vibrant colours have led to its Western appropriation, often devoid of its original historical context. 

The West's fascination with exoticism sometimes results in the trivialisation of the bag's significance. This raises ethical concerns about cultural misappropriation and the commodification of an object laden with profound cultural meaning. 

How can we reconcile the Western embrace of the bag with its roots in forced migration and cultural identity?

Artistic Expression and Reclaiming Identity

Nobukho Ngaba and Dan Halter are among the artists who have harnessed the 'Ghana Must Go' bag's power to convey deeper narratives. 

Dan halter, Cross The River in a Crowd - Installation

Ngaba's installation at the Zeitz MOCAA Museum, titled 'Unomgcana/Umasikhenkethe,' poignantly captures the struggles faced by informal settlement dwellers during disasters. 

Exhibition of Nobukho Nqaba

By incorporating the bag and plain grey blankets, Ngaba sheds light on the resilience of marginalised communities and their connection to the bag's history. 

How can art transform a symbol of displacement into an emblem of empowerment?

Wanda Lephoto's 'Me Fie' Collection: A Thought-Provoking Tribute

Pop-up by Wanda Lephoto at Decorex

Wanda Lephoto's recent pop-up display and fashion collection, 'Me Fie,' pay homage to the 'Ghana Must Go' bag's intricate heritage. 

By drawing inspiration from the bag's design and cultural significance, Lephoto encapsulates the essence of home, belonging, and migration. 

Pop Up by Wanda at Decorex Fair

The collection's incorporation of the bag's pattern resonates with Virgil Abloh's concept of altering a process by 3% to create new meanings. 

Wanda Lephoto's collection Me Fie - My Place of HOME

How does Lephoto's collection contribute to the ongoing dialogue about cultural appropriation while celebrating its original significance?

The 'Ghana Must Go' bag's journey from a practical utility to a symbol of identity and artistic inspiration demonstrates its enduring impact on global culture. 

Wanda Lephoto - Emotions of the Traveling Dreamers

While its Western appropriation raises ethical questions, artists like Nobukho Ngaba and Wanda Lephoto emphasise the power of reclaiming and reshaping cultural symbols. 

As we navigate the intricate intersections of migration, identity, and artistic expression, we must tread carefully, acknowledging the bag's past while embracing its potential to foster meaningful conversations about resilience, belonging, and the complexities of cultural appropriation.

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'Ghana Must Go' Bags

Wanda Lephot

Me Fie' collection


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