“Was it the real matrix they were showing?”, the exact words a friend said to me before bursting into laughter when I showed her a Ghanaian poster advertising the science-fiction box-office hit from the late 90s. And yes, it was the one. Despite the fact that Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne look nothing like Morpheus and Neo on the pale blue cartoonish poster, Ghanaian cinema owners still put them up to stir up curiosity and draw viewers in. Today, the posters are a source of laughter, curiosity and interest, highly sought after by collectors from all over the world.
These intricately playful and minimal poster of Hollywood movies are relics from a time in Ghana’s cinematic history where artists reinvented the films, based on the titles, plot summaries, VHS cassette tape covers, or scenes from the film. Ghanaian artists such as Rights Art and Mr. Brian, spreading acrylic paint on white, recycled flour sacks turned canvases, reinvented the likeness of popular actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Van Dame they were commissioned to make them look much more vicious and arresting. They are included element that might not have being the film like flames, snakes and dragons all in attempt to convey the intensity of the flick. Deliberately, these fine artists localized not just American film but Nigerian film as well, situating them in a unique setting, a world of their own, where they could communicate with Ghanaians in the visual code they had invented. The poster served as fuel for the imagination of anyone who laid eyes on them.
Today, despite the fact that most of the old community cinemas in Accra and videos rental stores are now warehouses or churches, the poster culture continues to thrive although for a very different target. Art collector and gallery owner, Ernie Wolfe was one of the first collectors to notice the intrinsic value of these poster and beginning publicizing them in the art community in America. Since the early 2000s, interest in this rare and unique posters in the west has slowly increased with reportage in international art magazines. Deadly Prey Gallery also has one of the largest collection of posters for sale, most of which are exhibited on their Instagram. This recognition consequently benefitted the artist who now sell original prints for hundreds of dollars and produce new prints for clients overseas.
These posters represent an inherent desire and guiding principle among many African artists which is to be ingénue; to reinvent motif and symbols for their audiences. By being bold and disruptive, these artists created a unique piece of cinema history which unfortunately is lost in the country today. Ghana has failed to document and analyse the impressions and reinterpretations of Ghanaian cinema that the film posters represented. Little is known of what informed the creative decisions that went to the composition of the poster and why most of the posters look alike despite the fact the the artists where different. Perhaps they were all trying to unify the visual code used in communicating the films on the posters.
Other countries like Nigeria and Pakistan also delved into reinvented film poster making but none really resemble those from Ghana. One unique feature of these posters is that they bore the tag of the cinema or video rental company that commissioned the painting more prominently than the artist’s name, which hides in a corner of the canvass. This information today creates a map of the cinemas and video/film stores all over Ghana, from Nima to Assin Fosu.
It is rather unfortunate that young people today do not have the pleasure of seeing some of these creations as the primary market for them no longer exists with the advent of printing services and other means of advertising. However, artists still create posters of old and new films now based on request. We have put together a small gallery of the ones we found striking or iconic below from Deadly Prey Gallery’s extensive collection.
Written by Hakeem Adam
Images: Deadly Prey Gallery