Is it a car? Is it a coffin? In fact it’s both, an amazing piece of artwork that celebrates a modern Ghanaian tradition.

Mercedes-Benz coffin fact file

Date

c.1998

Made in

Accra, Ghana

Made by

Paa Joe (real name Joseph Ashong)

Made from

Wood, paint, textile

Dimensions

Height 70cm, length 218cm

Museum reference

K.2000.38

Did you know?

Paa Joe's work is held in museum collections around the world, including the British Museum. You can find out more about Paa Joe and his famous coffins here.

As humans, death is part of our life and everyone must go in style.
- Paa Joe, 2013

Going out in style

Here in Scotland, we associate funerals with black clothes, sombre music and plain wooden coffins. But over in West Africa, on the coast of Ghana, funerals are often a much more colourful, noisy affair, a celebration of the life of the departed. In Ghana, people like to go out in style.

And what more stylish way to go than in your own custom-built coffin in the shape of a Mercedes-Benz?

Mercedes-Benz coffin

Above: The Mercedes-Benz coffin.

This amazing object has its origins in the 1950s, when a local chief was buried in a lavish coffin shaped like a giant cocoa pod (as Ghana was the world’s biggest exporter of cocoa beans at the time) designed and built by the skilful carpenter Ata Owoo.

Since then the trade in fantasy coffins has thrived in Ata Owoo’s home town of Teshi, just outside Ghana’s capital, Accra. Here, relatives spend up to a year’s salary on elaborate, imaginative works of art that reflect the status, profession or passions of the deceased, from boats to birds, fish to flying machines, corncobs to crabs.

Inside the Mercedes-Benz coffin

Above: Inside the coffin.

Who built the coffin?

The ultimate symbol of prestige and wealth in Ghana, this Mercedes coffin was designed and built by Ghanaian artist Paa Joe. Carved from wood and painted white with silver, black and orange details, it comes complete with silver headlights, wing mirrors, an aerial and of course the trademark Mercedes-Benz badge.

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