Ghanaian photographer Jessica Sarkodie is known for her commitment to reality — honestly presenting her subjects without pretense, but instead with a tangible rawness. Journey with Sarkodie to Accra’s Legon Botanical Gardens, where her bold approach meets Maakola’s mission to empower and inspire with bold designs, ethically made.
Set on the edge of the University of Ghana’s Accra campus, the Legon Botanical Gardens are an oasis in the midst of the city. It is here, in the urban wild, that Sarkodie tells the story of Maakola and its relationship with nature.
According to Plato, all art is imitation. Together with Aristotle, he held “mimesis” — meaning “imitation”, the principle that underlies all artistic creation — as the re-creation of reality, and the re-presentation of nature. Art, then, is inextricably linked to the natural world, and this goes too for fashion. Taking cues from the Greek philosophers’ theory, Sarkodie frames Maakola’s prints with the glory of nature’s creation, accentuating the links between the designs and the real-life flora and fauna that shaped them.
Setting her model, Mareta — styled with no makeup and natural hair — against a verdant landscape, and the earthy textures of bamboo and tree bark, Sarkodie highlights the intense, yet warm, organic feel of Maakola’s prints. The Gaia Pencil Dress (and accompanying bolero) and Gaia High Low Skater Dress take their cues from nature, with figurative patterns of plants, fruits and leaves, while the intricate swirls of the Gaia High Low Maxi Dress evoke the coral reef and its crucial role in protecting the world’s coastlines. In its use of this distinctive Java print by Dutch fabric house Vlisco, Maakola hopes to call attention to the fashion industry’s damaging impact on the marine environment. This mission also finds expression in the polka dot-esque Water Well print, whose name references the ripples that follow the throwing of a stone into water — a visual metaphor for the effects our actions have on those around us, and the social, economic and environmental impact of the clothes we wear.
Photographing Maakola’s Speedbird designs, whose bird in flight is a symbol of prosperity and change in many African cultures, Sarkodie brings out the colours of the fabric by placing it alongside its analog in nature, in the form of vibrant pink bougainvillea flowers. She further captures the dynamism of the soaring birds by juxtaposing the garments with the birds’ sovereign domain: treetops and an endless sky.
In contrast, the intricate detail and bold colours of the peacock print that adorns Maakola’s Hannah Cudjoe Belted Coat Dress — inspired by the Ghanaian independence activist, who founded the All African Women’s League and held her own in what was largely a male space — are offset by the muted tones of wooden structures.
In addition to the natural environment, Maakola takes inspiration from the saleswomen who first popularized Dutch wax prints in Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Echoing the brand’s mission to empower both the women who manufacture the high-quality clothing and the women who don it, the photographer casts her model as confident and free.
This woman, a vision of quiet boldness and determination, is as much at home in nature as she is moving through the routine of city life. Donning the Gaia High Low Dress, which pays homage to Coral Reef, Sarkodie’s model is equipped to face the coarse realities of the modern world, represented by the wide school bench on which she sits.
The photographer seamlessly moves her subject from the midst of untamed nature to the harsher lines of urban structures, echoing the geometric pattern of the Nemesis Armor set. The small grid pattern from Vlisco, which brings to mind the fabric of a mat, is an example of a traditional West African Adinkra symbol, representing the marriage bed. In a nod to Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a sculpture famed for its fluidity and sense of movement, Sarkodie’s dynamic images depict a woman who is at once statuesque — covered and strengthened by this sleek, form-fitting “armor” — and at ease with her surroundings, freely moving through the space.
This adaptability of the Maakola woman speaks to the brand’s cosmopolitan DNA, and to Sarkodie’s own rich storytelling as a Ghanaian-born photographer with experience studying and working in New York. The photographer’s practice, inspired by both the familiarity of Accra and the fresh perspective on her hometown gained from time away, serves as an apt metaphor for Maakola’s prints themselves: innovation and ingenuity, firmly rooted in heritage.
Photographer: Jessica Sarkodie
Creative Director: Aurora Chiste
Assistant: Ivy Senyo
Model: Mareta Safo