Home Awesome Dazzlingly Morbid, Hand-Painted Film Posters from 1980s Ghana

Dazzlingly Morbid, Hand-Painted Film Posters from 1980s Ghana


African Gaze: Hollywood; Bollywood and Nollywood film posters from Ghana installation view( photo by Christine Ro for Hyperallergic)

LONDON — An oversized newborn sucks at a cow’s udder while a snake-woman floats overhead. A naked, bloodied human is tied to a cross as the stump of his left foot stands up on its own, and a headless human kneelings on the other side.

Surreal or disturbing imagery is a key feature of these posters, advertising Ghanaian movie screenings from the 1980 s and ’9 0s. Another is their eye-popping employ of colouring, which built on a tradition of hand-painted ads on Ghanaian storefronts. Poster artists like Joe Mensah and Frank Armah were hired by the operators of “mobile video clubs, ” or VHS movie showings from vans powered by gas generators. They expended several days on each artwork.

Nagin Aur Suhagan( photo by Karun Thakar)

These posters needed to be portable as well as attention-grabbing. They were usually painted by hand onto sacks or canvas, as big printing presses couldn’t be imported during Ghana’s military totalitarianisms of the 1970 s and ’8 0s. The hand-painted posters were then rolled up to travel from township to township as one of the purposes of the mobile video clubs.

An exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, African Gaze, shows these one-of-a-kind posters flout many of the conventions of mass-produced Hollywood posters. Taglines and billing blocks are generally missing, although the names of the video clubs are often is illustrated in key places. The posters are largely uncluttered with text; the text that does appear is in English rather than in indigenous Ghanaian languages.

The Prisoner( photo by Christine Ro for Hyperallergic)

Sometimes the imagery appears to bear little relation to the cinema being advertised — and indeed, the painters hadn’t always seen the films the issue is exemplifying. This various kinds of creative license attests to the style these posters transcend mainstream marketing. Some seem more startling and exciting than the films themselves, like the terrifying Tremors poster — a riot of blood and bloodbath, as opposed to a PG-1 3 movie. The Jurassic Park poster features a human swaying a golf club at a long-necked dinosaur munching on a shirtless person. In general, it isn’t necessary to be familiar with a particular cinema to appreciate the poster loosely connected to it. Instead, the objective is imaginative art objects.

Tremors( photo by Christine Ro for Hyperallergic)

The abundance of posters on display, spread over multiple floors, allows for an appreciation of certain motifs. A various kinds of over-the-top horror imbues even the non-horror films, and violence is front and center. Religious or occult topics are common. Animal motifs are also popular, from the deranged-looking mouse on the poster for The Witches to the eponymous Vulture Men.

The Witches( photo by Christine Ro for Hyperallergic)

There’s limited justification within the exhibition, permitting the artworks to speak for themselves. There’s also been no apparent attempt to group them according to themes, which replicates the global eclecticism of Ghanaian film savours. Nigerian relationship dramas rub shoulders with American schlock. The posters proudly declare that certain movies are Indian, Nigerian, Ghanaian, or more ambiguously African.

Indian Superman( photo by Karun Thakar)

A bit more socio-political context would have been useful to appreciate the posters as more than eccentric curiosities. It would have been similarly helpful to include some mention of these objects’ transformation from humble bag paintings into collectors’ items, which would have raised questions about ownership and value. While some of the painters earn commissions generating one-off runs( one 2015 Indiegogo campaign for a Chicago movie store offered backers a unique Ghanaian film paint for $800 ), the original posters now sell for thousands of dollars each. Many of the original artists are no longer able to make a living off of their art; prolific poster painter Joe Mensah is now a auto mechanic.

It’s theorized that the posters exhibited in the London gallery and a previous one in Los Angeles are owned and sold by( non-Ghanaian) collectors. Some of the artists have find secondary benefits by making copies of posters or procuring other commissions, but the art value chain isn’t inducing them the big winners.

Divine Intervention( photo by Karun Thakar)

These stunning posters are a gala of global cinematic culture, as well as Ghanaian cultural remixing. On a recent visit, the gallery was full of gleeful, wide-eyed adults enthralled by the macabre. I was certainly one of them.

African Gaze: Hollywood; Bollywood and Nollywood film posters from Ghana continues at the Brunei Gallery in London through March 23.

Uncle Sam( photo by Karun Thakar)

Eraser( photo by Karun Thakar) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad( photo by Karun Thakar) Jurassic Park( photo by Karun Thakar)

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