NEW BRITAIN, CONN.- The New Britain Museum of American Art
is presenting Ghana Paints Hollywood on November 9, 2017, a vibrant exhibition featuring over 50 hand-painted movie posters created by Ghanaian artists in the mid-1980s to the early 1990sa period referred to at the Golden Age of Ghanaian movie posters. These posters present viewers with a compelling cross-cultural conversation, exploring how other nations depict our country through avenues of creative expression.
Commissioned to advertise movie screenings throughout the nations countryside, the posters included in Ghana Paints Hollywood reveal the unique artistic skills of their creators as well as the wide variety of Hollywood films that attracted the Ghanaian public, including blockbusters such as Coming to America, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, and Rocky. Starting in about 1985 and continuing until just before the Millennium, these hand-painted imagination-driven movie posters arose in and are unique to Ghana. This phenomenon resulted from the culmination of several pivotal factors, including the emergence and accessibility of video cassette tapes, limited printing technology, restrictive import laws of the time, and a contingent of enterprising film distributors who utilized portable gas powered generators, 20-inch TV monitors, speakers, and VCRs to create a mobile cinema tradition throughout Ghana.
Hired by these local distributors to advertise the screening of the films, artists, including Joe Mensah, Gilbert Forson, Leonardo, and Death Wonder, competed fiercely and directly in the public eye for this exciting new work, being careful to sign and date the great majority of their paintings. Frequently utilizing flour sacks as canvas, these artists created hand-painted movie postersor crowd-pullers as they were knownoften without ever having viewed the film depicted, instead drawing upon their imaginations to create their compelling and dramatic scenes of action, comedy, drama, and horror. Not uncommonly, these Golden Age posters were filled with fantastical images that went far beyond anything actually presented in the movie itself. Whether viewed from the window of a passing bus, through the swirling dust on a Ghanaian byway, or studied from a distance in an American museum of art, the colorful, graphic imagery in these posters is immediately arresting. At a time when market forces from abroad were minimal, these exotic visual narrative paintings stood their ground against the inevitable tide of printing technology that globalization introduced and represented a brief period in which individual creativity won out over commercial advertising.
It is unlikely that American filmmakers imagined that their movies would be seen in Ghana; or that these artists ever considered that their work would be seen in the country in which the Hollywood films that so inspired them were produced. These artworks from another culture and continent serve as cross-cultural ambassadors and, in this way, remind us of the many commonalities that exist between our disparate worlds.