a yellow cab with a top that opens to reveal green and patterned fabrics

“Yellow Cab” (2024), Emele wood, enamel, cloth, acrylic, 92 x 27 x 44 inches. All images courtesy of Superhouse, shared with permission

New Yorkers are known for their unwavering devotion to the city, but would they want to spend eternity inside one of its once-ubiquitous taxis or worse yet, in the body of a wildly resilient subway rat?

In Celestial City at Superhouse, Ghanaian artist Paa Joe presents a sculptural ode to the Big Apple by carving an oversized rendition of the fruit, a Heinz ketchup bottle, a bagel with schmear, and more urban icons. Invoking the charms of all five boroughs, the painted wooden works open up to reveal the soft, padded insides of coffins, and two—the car and condiment—are even fit for humans.


sculptures of a rat, a birkin bag, a taxi, a heinz ketchup bottle, a small statue of liberty, a bagel with schmear, and a trash can

Installation view of ‘Celestial City’

Since 1960, Paa Joe has been crafting caskets, which are known as abeduu adeka or proverb boxes to the Ga people, a community to which the artist belongs. Coffins are a crucial component to the safe passage of the dead to the afterlife and a family tradition for Paa Joe. A statement says:

In the early 1950s, Paa Joe’s uncle, Kane Kwei pioneered the first figurative coffin, a cocoa pod intended for a chief as a ceremonial palanquin. When the chief passed away during its construction, it was repurposed as his coffin. This innovative art form quickly gained popularity, and Kane Kwei began creating bespoke commissions resembling living and inanimate objects, symbolizing the deceased individual’s identity (an onion for a farmer, an eagle for a community leader, a sardine for a fisherman, etc.).

He continues this legacy today with his Fantasy Coffins series. In addition to the New York tributes, his works include a Campbell’s soup can, an Air Jordan sneaker, fish, and fruit. The sculptures often exaggerate scale, including the diminutive Statue of Liberty and a gigantic hot dog that shift perspectives on the quotidian.

Celestial City is on view through April 27. For a glimpse into Paa Joe’s carving process, visit Instagram.


a wooden hot dog sculpture

Detail of “Sabrett” (2023), Emele wood, enamel, cloth, 23. 6 x 16. 5 x 11 inches

a hot dog sculpture opened to reveal a purple inside

“Sabrett” (2023), Emele wood, enamel, cloth, 23. 6 x 16. 5 x 11 inches

left: a wooden rat sculpture in a window. right: an open wooden ketchup bottle with gold lining

Left: “Subway Rat” (2023), Emele wood, enamel, 24. 4 x 12. 6 x 11. 8 inches. Right: “Heinz” (2024), Emele wood, enamel , cloth, 26. 5 x 22. 5 x 94 inches

a small sculpture to look like the guggenheim museum in new york with white round levels and a tall building behind

“Guggenheim” (2024), Emele wood, enamel, cloth, 29 x 22. 5 x 26. 5 inches

a detail of a building opening up on top to reveal a green cavern inside

Detail of “Guggenheim” (2024), Emele wood, enamel, cloth, 29 x 22. 5 x 26. 5 inches

detail of a wooden apple sculpture

Detail of “Big Apple” (2024), Emele wood, enamel, artificial leaves, 19. 5 D x 26. 5 inches

a wooden taxi cab sculpture and a red heinz bottle sculpture and a small statue of liberty

Installation view of ‘Celestial City’

Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. The article Hot Dogs, Rats, and Birkin Bags: Paa Joe’s Wooden Coffins Are an Ode to NYC’s Ubiquitous Sights appeared first on Colossal.