WEB POSTER EXHIBITION - Painted movie posters from Ghana

The Python
Artist: Salvation Art

Blood Money 2
Artist: Mr. Brew Art (Kwesi Blue)

Evil Thing
Artist: Mr. Brew Art (Kwesi Blue)
This web exhibition accompanies the current exhibition Killers op canvas at the Dutch Poster Museum in Hoorn, The Netherlands, from 23 October 2005 till 15 January, 2006. The following text and the reproductions were kindly provided by Frans van Lier, curator of the exhibition.

An episode in african folk art

When the video cassette as a compact carrier for films reached the West African country of Ghana in the early 1980s, entrepre- neurial operators travelled with video recorders and tv sets to villages, to show violent and often bloodthirsty films in primitive open-air cinemas.

A delighted and noisy audience seated on wooden benches behind a fence of planks or sheets watches the shocking events in films from their own country or from Nigeria, India, China or America.

These film-shows obviously need to be advertised and because one advertising poster is sufficient for each village, local painters are set to work with brush and paint to produce an arresting image.They use the inside of a flour sack which, once split open, provide the perfect size for a large and durable advertising paint- ing. The artists, who prior to the age of video had honed their talents on advertising signs, often for hairdressing businesses, not only find an extra source of income in the film posters, but also discover a new artistic freedom. By illustrating the story of a film they tap into new layers in their imagination. In particular, a freer association with sex and physicality is now possible than had previously been the case.

The artists use this freedom to reflect the essence of a film completely according to their own fancy. Sometimes they simply copy the illustration on the cover of the video cassette, but more often they give their own interpretation of the film which they had either been shown beforehand or been told about in superlatives.

The posters for Ghanaian or Nigerian films in particular often offer bloodchilling images. Men with wolf's heads, animals with human heads, women strangled by gigantic snakes or disappea- ring into the jaws of a crocodile, living skeletons and severed heads screaming in fear are among the themes on these pain- tings which show an unknown and impressive aspect of African folk art.

These are large posters, around 100 x 150 cm, painted on the split open sacks. Sometimes there are even two sacks sewn to- gether to achieve the desired billboard size.The paint is applied directly on the jute without an undercoat; keeping the weight down. After all, the video travels from village to village, and the poster travels with it.

Sometimes there are several videos in circulation of the same film, so more than one advertising poster is painted, either by the same artist or by someone else. In this case the images on the posters can differ considerably. A film about a vicious dog will show a menacing labrador on one poster and a snarling mastiff on another.

Once the videos have done the rounds or are simply worn out, the posters also lose their function.The painted jute can then be used in the home, as a curtain against flies or a sleeping mat for instance.

The Amsterdam businessman Mandy Elsas has rescued more than six hundred of these posters from this kind of recycling by buying them from the cinema-operators. He travels regularly to Ghana for his shop in exotic products, and became fascinated by this unique poster phenomenon. He made friends with various painters, who give themselves colourful names: Bab's Art,Ali, Leonardo, Salvation, Dallas, Heavy J or Kwesi Blue (signs with Mr. Brew Art orT-BrewArt).The latter is an African version of Dutch artist Herman Brood and specialises in dramatic horror with a great deal of flying blood.

The mobile cinemas passed their peak in the mid-1990s when television and video recorders became common in Ghana and all the films could be watched at home.This meant the end was also near for this unique form of cinema advertising. For a short period the combination of two unequal cultures - film and traditional painting - had produced hundreds of paintings which would otherwise not have existed. They have been pre- served for art history as a modest counterbalance to an earlier development, when European avantgardists like Picasso became inspired by African masks and statues in the 1910s and 1920s. In this case African painters were inspired by western themes and ideas.And just as the expressionists gave their own interpretati- ons, so the Africans were faithful to their own idiom.

Frans van Lier, with thanks to Albert Opoku

Africa Hercules
Artist: W.A. Otchere

Artist: unknown

Artist: Ali

Demons in the Land
Artist: unknown

Quicksilver Highway
Artist: E.A. Heavy Jeaurs

Artist: Leonardo Arts (Edward Lamptey)

home  previous exhibitions  page created on November 15, 2005 / this section is part of Rene Wanner's Poster Page /