Art Histories
2015/ 2016

Annalisa Butticci

Saint Anthony of Padua and the God of Nana Ntona in Elmina. A Ghanaian Tale of Transcultural Religious Aesthetics

Statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, nineteen century, gesso, Museum of Roman Catholic Art and Missions in the Gold Coast, Elmina, Ghana. Photograph: Annalisa Butticci (2015).

is Assistant Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology of the University of Utrecht. She received her MA from the University of Padua, and her PhD from the Catholic University of Milan, Italy. She was post-doctoral fellow in the department of Social and Cultural Analysis of New York University and Marie Curie fellow at Harvard Divinity School and the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Utrecht University. Her areas of research include visual and material culture of religions, religious aesthetics and politics, and religions and societies of West Africa and African diasporas (with a special focus on Ghana and Nigeria). She is the author of the book The Politics of Presence: African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe (forthcoming, Harvard University Press, 2016) and of several articles and multimedia works on African Religions. She is the co-director of the documentary film Enlarging the Kingdom: African Pentecostalism in Italy (28 min), curator of two multimedia exhibitions entitled Black Motion: Diasporic Bodies, Identity and Emotions (Venice, Sale Docs, 2010) and Na God (Padova, Palazzo Moroni, 2012), and the editor of the catalogue Na God: Aesthetics of African Charismatic Power (Grafiche Turato Press, 2013).

Saint Anthony of Padua and the God of Nana Ntona in Elmina: A Ghanaian Tale of Transcultural Religious Aesthetics

Butticci’s project explores the biography of a statue of Saint Anthony that was initially made for a Catholic church in Portugal, was then brought to Elmina, Ghana, by Catholic missionaries in the seventeenth century and, when those missionaries were chased away by the Dutch, ended up in a traditional shrine as Nana Ntona—Saint Anthony renamed as a local deity. As a local deity, Nana Ntona became popular for his healing and miraculous power. During the period of the Atlantic slave trade, when Elmina became one of the major Dutch sources of slaves, Nana Ntona became an asylum for runaway slaves and years later became the great protector of the Elminians who were fighting against the British colonial empire. In contemporary Elmina, Nana Ntona is one of the seventy-seven gods that inhabit a vibrant fishing town that is now seriously challenged by the harsh consequences of a ruthless neo-liberal fishing market. What is the role of Nana Ntona in contemporary Elmina? And what is his relationship to Saint Anthony, whose statue adorns the main altar of the Catholic Basilica of Elmina that so majestically oversees the town from Mission Hill? The research looks at the encounter between Roman Catholic iconicity and Gold Coast traditional religions and societies, their connections and disconnections, reciprocal appropriations and manipulations of objects, images, and religious aesthetics.