THE SNAKE STRIKES BACK
GHANA, WEST AFRICA
PAINTING ON FLOUR SACK CANVAS 41'' W x 49'' H
During the late 1980s, a cottage industry developed in Ghana, West Africa, called the “mobile cinema.” It was composed of young entrepreneurs who possessed three pieces of property — a TV, a videocassette recorder (known then as a VCR), and a portable, gas powered generator. Armed with these tools plus desire and ambition, they traveled from village to village showing movies on the VCR and selling tickets to the event.
The movies they showed fall into four broad categories: Hollywood horror and action movies, most often obscure titles with an occasional hit thrown in for good measure; Bollywood movies from India; Kung Fu movies from the Hong Kong film industry; and movies from the Ghanian and Nigerian film industries, which often appear bizarre to western eyes. When a new movie came to town, or when a new venue opened up, word spread, but in the competitive world of West African entertainment word of mouth was not enough to survive, no less thrive. Most cinema operators found the only way to thrive was to increase sales, the only way to increase sales was to advertise, and the only effective way to advertise was to put up posters.
The need to attract customers gave birth to what is now recognized as a distinctive, compelling collectible — the Ghanian movie poster - an item that at first glance might appear obscure, occupying a hidden corner in the larger world of movie memorabilia. The artists who created the posters were essentially commercial illustrators who typically used oil paint to make shop signs and other forms of advertising. When it came to the canvas they used to create the posters, their own economic circumstances and resourcefulness led them to use opened-up flour sacks. Besides being cheap and readily available, this material also proved to be the perfect size for large promotional posters. These were posters destined to be rolled or folded, displayed in the sun and rain for weeks at a time, and carried from village to village. As a result, most surviving posters have gained the patina of authenticity, aging in a distressed, engaging manner.
The resulting posters almost always present a lurid, colorful patchwork of images intended to attract, engage and entice the viewer. Sometimes the images are grotesque, violent, raw, and hardcore; at other times they are so absurd and melodramatic they become humorous, if not downright ludicrous; and at rare times they can be endearing; yet each and every time they succeed in sucking the viewer into an imaginary, surreal world which may or may not be relevant to the film. As art and advertising, they are wildly successful, and it is the combination of the two which makes Ghanian movie posters memorable, indeed unforgettable when compared to other movie memorabilia and poster art in general.
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