Awkwardly interesting, aesthetically intriguing, unconventionally informative. This is the fascinating world of hand-painted Ghanaian film posters. Firstly introduced in the 1980s, these unique for their artistry posters shed light on a creative “marketing tactic” employed by mobile cinema businesses to promote mainstream movies to villages and rural communities in Ghana.
Mobile cinema businesses, usually made up of a diesel generator, a VCR, and a TV or projector loaded onto a truck, travelled to communities with little or no access to cinema, showcasing mainly Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood, and Ghanaian films. Since the means to promote the movies to the local communities were limited, the mobile cinema proprietors had to find an alternative way to advertise their offerings and attract people.
With printed posters not being an option due to the country’s rules restricting the import of printing materials, the answer was quickly found in local artists’ creativity skills. The artists were commissioned to create movie posters using mostly acrylic paint on recycled flour sacks. The sacks of flour were flattened out, stitched together, and repurposed as canvasses for the oil and acrylic paintings.
The goal was to create eye-catching, colourful, and sometimes morbidly gory posters that would attract as many viewers as possible. Working towards this end, the local artists abstractly recreated images from the movies or took creative license, if the movies weren’t inspiring enough.
“I sometimes watched the movies and picked some actions from it (…) But if the movie was so boring, then I had to do it by my own imagination, which mostly features some images and actions that (were) not in the movies, to attract more people to go watch them.”
Artist Heavy Jay
As more and more people were able to buy their own equipment, the popularity of mobile cinemas started decreasing in the 90s. Today, the original posters have become popular and pricey in the art world. They have also made their way to prestigious galleries and museums in Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, and around the world.
In Ghana, the demand for these posters has created a new market, where hand-painted movie posters are designed for the international art market and not for the local cinemas. Existing templates are usually used to copy the design of older movie posters. The painters modify them slightly so that their creations can still be sold to galleries as unique artworks.
Jeaurs Oka Afutu, a veteran poster designer, began painting the posters when he was a teenager. Now, he works from his home in Accra, Ghana, to produce the posters for art dealers, selling them for between $75 and $100 apiece.
So, why art dealers and film enthusiasts are still intrigued by the concept of made-in-Ghana, hand-painted movie posters? See for yourself.