Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Retro Ghana Movie Art hits the big time in imagination and reach

I’ve always been amazed/intrigued/amused by the roadside posters in Ghana. These enterprising artists advertise their work with the most kitsch drawings… It’s not uncommon to see a slightly asymmetrical Osama Bin Laden, raising a toast (with a local Star Beer in hand), to George Bush and Kenny Rogers… all portrayed in oil colours on the canvas of a 6 foot plywood board…

I also discovered a few years ago, during my work with artisans in Ghana, that the typical barbershop signs, made by these same artists, had become quite popular in some art circles in the USA and Europe.
I even bought my son one when we redecorated his room, but having grown up in Accra for the majority of his life, he didn’t appreciate the kitsch factor and thought it stupid to pluck a badly drawn painting of three guys with various geometric hair designs up on his wall… so the idea was scrapped… but I digress. These paintings can be found online, selling for between $200-$400 each!!

Today I learned another industry has embraced the art of our beloved Ghanaian roadside painters… the movie industry! Look out Hollywood – here comes vintage Ghanaian movie posters – advertising so much more than the original film intended… The history as explained in my source site:

“In the 1980s “mobile cinema” operators in Ghana traveled from town to town creating temporary cinemas by hooking up a TV and VCR onto a portable generator and playing the films for the public.

Artists were hired to paint large posters of the films for promotion, and were given the artistic freedom to paint the posters as they desired - often adding elements that weren’t in the actual films, or without even having seen the movies. The “mobile cinema” began to decline in the mid-nineties due to greater availability of television and video; as a result the painted film posters were substituted for less interesting/artistic posters produced on photocopied paper.”

On this great art appreciation blog, I found an article that explained the history of the posters, and when I looked further I found many sites that have been selling these unique bits of Ghanaian 80’s popular culture – again, averaging $200 each, despite their raggedy condition.

Here are a couple examples – I also found the ‘real’ movie posters for the films.. quite the artistic license I must say!!!

You gotta love the head in the field eating someone's amputated arm... oh, and the red bugs coming out of the lday's head. I just can't figure out why she's only in a bra?! And the main guy there looks like a bad cross between Beetlejuice and Freddie Kruger! :)

The real poster is just so dull in comparison!

With this one, it appears the artist may have seen the actual poster, but decided to localize it - Bond and his female companion have become browner.. but I can't make out what the huge red fish is for?!! Then there is the issue of tenses - the spy obviously still loves this girl!

I bet Bond never knew he was a black star in rural Ghana!
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joel. said...

excellent post. I completely agree that the painted posters a soo much more interesting than the "real" Hollywood ones...and generally more interesting than the films themselves.
Will at A Journey Around My Skull had a great idea that someone should remake the films based on these painted posters. I would love to see something like that.
thanks for the link.

A. Gillispie said...

Fun post! I actually have one of the old barber shop signs hanging up in my son Bright's bedroom! I found it on Ebay and bid like a crazy woman in the last minute to get it for $40 (which I now realize must have been a great deal)! It says "Bright Salon" and my 3 year old Bright LOVES to "do" hair, so we just had to have it! Before it's life in my son's bedroom it was hanging in a New York lost for ten years!

A. Gillispie said...

Loft, not lost. =-)

joel. said...

Someone just posted a link to more African Roadsigns that I thought I'd pass along.

joel. said...

sorry, proper link -->

The pale observer said...

@joel - thanks - will check it out!

@Anita - yes $40 was a great deal for the poster. The name Bright is very Ghanaian - such a cute and positive name!

The one I bought cost me about $20 - but that one was bought from the source in Accra.

When I saw some of them online for over $200 I thought maybe I should get into this business!

The pale observer said...

Hey Joel - I added boh yours and Will's blog to my blogroll - will keep checking in!

Esi W. Cleland said...

Thanks, Holli for posting this. Really Interesting. I'd almost forgotten about those local movie posters. I should look more into them.

And thanks, Joel for the link to the roadsigns website.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece Holli! I completely forgot about those movie posters from when I was a kid. Brought back some memories.

LadyFi said...

Fascinating! I do think the Ghanaian Bond is so much better than the original!

The pale observer said...

@Lady Fi - thanks for visiting and your comments. Yes, the Ghanaian bond has more character! :)

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Being Brazen said...

Love those movie poster paintings - very cool

Robynn's Ravings said...

Boy, am I gonna get an education here! This is something I've never heard of and what great whimsy the local artists bring. I can see why they've become collectible. I like the one you wanted to put in your son's room. :)

Robynn's Ravings said...

I hope you don't mind but I've been visiting your friends here. What an INCREDIBLE bunch you hang out with! I'm now a follower several MORE places. I have no idea how I'll find time but I HAD to follow. I have to quit looking now! (Just say "no," Robynn.)

The pale observer said...

Hi Robyn - the more the merrier! Glad you've found some good reading. But yes, I agree - how to find the time to follow all the interesting posts!! :-)

Anonymous said...

Matthew Coniam said...

These are just wonderful - thanks for pointing me this way. I adore the James Bond one with the big fish. Exquisite!

The pale observer said...

Hey Matthew! These Ghanaian artists are something! :)

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