Review: I Want to be King – An Exhibition Fit for Royalty


It’s a blistering 30 degrees in the mother city, but it’s relatively cool in the shade of the ancient oaks lining Government Avenue, which runs the length of Company Gardens in the middle of town.

It’s also known as Museum Mile, and I was headed for the museum at the top – the National Gallery – to meet Mohamed Coulibaly.  Mohamed is here from Cote D’Ivoire with a unique collection of cloths, clothes and kingly regalia which, in an interactive shop-meets-exhibition, people will be allowed to try on, to be photographed in, as well as to purchase.

When I meet Mohamed – a tall, dark, well tailored man – he offers me a slice of the apple pie he is eating. I laugh, but quickly realise that Mohammed is a serious man, who ponders each question I ask thoughtfully.

His main motivation for the exhibition, he tells me, is simply to promote his culture. His opulent merchandise lies on the table in front me – handmade fabrics that are intricately woven and decorated.

One of Mohamed’s main points was the importance of symbolism for his tribe, the Akan people.  The elephant, for example, is a constantly recurring motif, revered as the King of the jungle.  An ornate, almost fez-like crown is covered with gold animals and topped with a herd of elephants, the largest one in the centre.  Also on the crown are birds, horns and scarab beetles, all in the same pale gold. The crown in totality ‘represents the kingdom and also the unity of the community’ says Mohamed.

Another important part of the King’s wardrobe is his sandals.  Mohammed explains that it is customary that the King’s feet should never come in contact with the ground.  Alongside the woven sandals and a crown there’s also some traditional tribal ‘bling’ – a large gold elephant on a very elaborate and impressively heavy-looking chain.

As a designer by trade, Mohamed has a deep bond with the materials which he has chosen to display.  He shows me the kente, the royal cloth which is handmade and worn by both the Akan and the Ashanti tribes in Ghana. One kente can take up to a month to make. Worthy of a royal indeed!

This is a small exhibition, but one that reveals a wealth of culture in an intimate and interesting manner.  Well worth a visit.


Melissa Scheepers

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