Ghana's Golden Age of Movie Posters 2: Rebirth... Again

Cyborg Cop, 1993
Joe Mensah (Ghanaian, 1966 - )
Oil on cotton canvas; 68 × 45 in.
Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

A raised fishing net reveals the TV set that will become
the focal point for the evening's activity at this modest
courtyard video club. Note the calm blue sea of the Cape
Coast in the background, and the cord from the TV
leading to its power source, a portable gas-powered
generator, conveniently kept away and around the
corner to minimize its auditory impact. 1998.
Photography by Ernie Wolfe, III.
“It’s man against machine” wrote Ernie Wolfe, III, referencing the western African nation of Ghana’s art climate and not, for example, the plot of Cyborg Cop. But Cyborg Cop and many of other B-rated films of the 1980s and 90s are right at the core of what Wolfe is speaking of, once marketed on canvas flour sacks by poster artists of the country’s ‘Golden Age of Movie Posters.’ As discussed in the first Bowers Museum Collection Blog post on the subject, Ghana's Golden Age of Movie Posters, even by the last couple years of the 20thCentury Ghanaian accessibility of printing technologies, home entertainment, and cheap alternatives like chalkboards made hand painting a nonviable advertising option for motion pictures; but this was not always the case. The Golden Age was a time in the mid ‘80s and ‘90s when entrepreneurs roamed rural Ghana with generators, televisions, VCR’s and VHS tapes, finding screening rooms in homes and meeting halls, all to show the latest films from the United States, India, and Hong Kong. These films were advertised with hand-painted posters, many of which were painstaking composed and recomposed over the period of weeks. These paintings, almost always designed to create unrealistic expectations rather than realistically portray the content of the films which were sometimes not watched by the artist composing the poster in advance of their completion, became themselves masterpieces every bit as worthy of recognition as their poorly crafted film antecedents. Note everything appearing to be exploding.
Extreme Canvas 2: The Golden Age of
Hand Painted Movie Posters from Ghana,
title page photograph. Photography by
Ernie Wolfe, III.
The concern has always been that niche arts like movie poster paintings in Ghana were at risk of disappearing entirely. In its original form, it did die. When it became unprofitable to spend days or weeks painting multi-layered posters, many Golden Age artists were forced to give up their trade or move on to different painting jobs. Partially thanks to interest from collectors such as Ernie Wolfe, III, the first to see a value in collecting Golden Age posters, something new was born though in the form of an export business. After the Golden Age came to a close in 1999, hastily-made, lower quality posters began to be produced en masse to sell to visiting tourists and on eBay. Often these posters were copies of the most famous Golden Age posters, much as ‘genuine’ wooden tribal carvings are now made by the hundreds and covered in dirt to give them the appearance of being aged before being sold in the same ways. Stories of man against machine have existed since the legendary steel-driver John Henry faced and defeated the steam-powered hammer, but even when man loses something new is created from the conflict. At the Bowers and other museums, the posters themselves have found a second wind in wonderfully supportive communities. With just a look at the Bowers geotag on Instagram, one sees visitors interacting with the posters by creating wickedly clever captions, posing their kids in front of Child’s Play III, and the fantastic gifs made by the Bowers’ own creative department. That someone could fall in love with the genuine articles the Bowers has on exhibition and then purchase a hand-painted poster resembling it online is wonderful.
Child's Play 3, 1992
Jam (Ghanaian)
Oil on cotton canvas, 59 x 43 in.
Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

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