When it comes to mainstream film poster design, we often think of the same old design tropes that see big cutouts of the protagonists’ head in the foreground, surrounded by bold text, and a collage of some other characters’ heads photoshopped against an atmospheric backdrop. It’s a formula that works for any genre and style, and one we’ve seen again and again, plastered on billboards or on the sides of buses so often that they all kind of merge into one amalgamation of “Hollywood”.
However, in 1980s Ghana, artists were working on something completely different. Despite being in the digital age, Ghana saw an emergence of beautiful hand painted, two-metre-high film posters, re-envisaging mainstream flicks in an entirely original way. This visual expression marks the explosion of the local film industry, which coincided with the innovation of the Nigerian film industry, otherwise known as Nollywood. Currently exhibiting until 23 March at the Brunei Gallery, part of London’s SOAS campus, over 100 of these incredible posters from Ghana’s cultural history act as evidence of the Ghanaian interpretation of some all-time classic films including Jurassic Park, Eraser and Superman.
Painted on sacks or canvas, the film posters were commissioned by local entrepreneurs who would tour the pictures amongst local communities, rolling up the cloth posters from place to place as they travelled the country. Illustrated by highly-skilled craftsmen, the posters embodied Ghanaian iconographies at the time, “combining a blend of elements that drew on local beliefs that intersected with the range of popular imported films, such as the imagery of America’s Hollywood as well as India’s Bollywood that were both shown in Ghana.”
The collection belongs to collector Karun Thakar, who has been amassing historical design treasures for more than 40 years. His collection spans continents and time periods, from antique textiles to Venetian glass and the Ghanaian posters represent just a tip of the iceberg. Karun, who is also the curator of the African Gaze exhibition, explains on the collection, “These artists were not just reproducing the original posters, through their paintings they seem to be both subverting and elevating them. Juxtaposing the symbols and archetypes of popular culture with their own complex iconography. Ultimately creating a unique and anarchic art form which is pregnant with new meaning.”
The collection was started by Karun’s late partner Mark Shivas, who spotted a poster in Accra during the 1990s, for a film he had produced called The Witches. It sparked a passion for the now-plentiful poster collection, where viewers can distinguish the uniquely Ghanaian undertones painted amidst the film’s storylines. Ghana’s vibrant national colours of yellow, green and red often grace the bold headlines of the posters, as well as its borders and colour-blended backgrounds. As a result, the film poster is rekindled for an arts audience by these visionary Ghanaian artists. Appreciated at the time of their creation, along with contemporary audiences today, these posters are not only fantastic interpretations, but they also provide a distinct insight into Ghanaian film culture in the 1980s.
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