The Art of Ghana's Cottage Cinema Industry

Art is always a product of context. In the case of the Ghanaian movie posters from the 1980's and 90's, of which we are selling an extensive selection from the collection of NOA Living, the economic, social, and political context in which the artists worked produced art of uncommonly vivid character, that, in all its campy glory, has become highly sought after by collectors.

In the 1970's and 80's, Ghana was ruled by military dictators through a series of coups that overthrew the first post-independence government. Various restrictions on trade kept Ghanaians from importing the mechanized printing presses that made mass-produced advertising ubiquitous in the rest of the world. This meant that advertising and signs, cheaply printed material in other places in the world, were still hand-painted original art in Ghana. Signs for places like barbershops are to this day practically their own artistic sub-genre.

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Insert a healthy dose of globalization. Enterprising Ghanaians in the 1980's, who had been watching global movies in theaters in urban Ghana for years, organized "mobile cinemas" and traveled around to far-flung villages that lacked electricity. These "cinemas" generally consisted of a projector, a VCR, a generator and a tent. They showed movies from all over the world, including Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood (Nigeria) and China.

fullsizeoutput_dTwo Vintage Ghana Martial Arts Movie Posters

As more and more of these traveling movie theaters cropped up, the proprietors needed to advertise to distinguish themselves from the competition. They hired sign painters, gave them the bare minimum of a plot outline (in the best of cases), and sent them off to paint movie posters on old flour sacks. The cinema owners directed the painters to make the posters as attention-grabbing as possible - the more sensational, the better. The results were wildly graphic, replete with severed limbs, busty women, flesh-eating monsters, laser beams and aliens. Never mind if the movie didn't actually include those things, so long as the posters put people in seats.

fullsizeoutput_10Eight Vintage Ghana Movie Posters

The most sought-after now of these original posters are the ones that take dramatic artistic license with well-known movies. Take, for instance, the poster for the 1988 comedy "Twins," about a wacky experiment in genetics starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito and directed by Ivan Reitman. According to the Ghanaian poster in the NOA collection, however, it was directed by Chuck Russell and Arnold Schwarzenegger "will erase your past to protect your future" using his two gigantic blaster guns. This sounds more like the plot to "Eraser," another Schwarzenegger movie that actually was directed by Chuck Russell. No matter, it's likely the poster pulled in a full house for the movie, whatever it actually was.

altVintage Ghana Movie Poster, Twins

Now that the broader world of movie enthusiasts has discovered these quirky Ghanaian posters, there is a brisk market for them. There is an entire art gallery dedicated to them in Chicago, and several books have been written about them. Some of the most popular poster artists from the era even currently accept commissions to paint new posters in the mode of the originals. But the posters from the actual period of their use tell such a vivid story about a moment in Ghanaian history, there's no substitute for aficionados.

Content created by the Leland Little editorial team