Bright lights and shiny glass surrounding a movie theater’s newest attractions in the form of manufactured glossy posters are not as ubiquitous as one may think.
The larger-than-life film posters that emerged in Ghana in the 1980s challenged the advertising world, charged with using the posters to sell as many movie tickets as possible.
As the large posters began to appear, so did the crowds and the appreciation for the hand-crafted pieces of art that depicted bloody battle scenes, steamy romantic encounters, and awe-inspiring alien visits.
The country of Ghana is well known for its immersion into artwork. Not only is the country full of murals and colorful representations of life in Ghana, but the practice of using hand-painted signage dates to the early 1900s.
In the 1930s, hair salons and stylists in Ghana needed to garner attention and advertise their services. The best way to get people’s attention is through visual signs – and thus, the practice of hand-painted signage in Ghana began.
Mural painting and sign lettering were so engrained in the community that boys in elementary school who demonstrated artistic promise would often apprentice with local painters to learn the skill.
Through the 1970s and 1980s and finally tapering off, the advent of larger than life, colorful, vibrant movie posters became the norm.
And Speaking of the 80’s here are the worst American Posters from that era.
The Beginning of Movies in Ghana
The advent of movie-going culture began worldwide in the 1970s and was in full steam by the mid-1980s.
In Ghana, films of all kinds were devoured by adolescents and adults alike. Ghanaians who lived in urban hubs were able to watch global movies – American Rom Coms, east-Asian martial arts, and Nigerian thrillers.
However, outside of major cities like Accra, the infrastructure in rural villages and communities prevented residents from enjoying films due to a lack of access to electricity or even buildings to act as theaters.
In the 1980s, the advent of the VCR began to change access and movie watching in Ghana.
As technology grew more accessible, wealthy citizens in Ghana could purchase VCRs as there was an influx in orders coming from the UK.
These citizens would set up what was known as “Video Clubs” – spaces where cassettes of significant motion pictures would be screened with a generator, a TV or projector, and an open space.
To sell tickets and attract viewers, the proprietors of these video clubs would enlist the help of local artists to create hand-painted posters for the movie, usually based on the VHS cover art.
The Posters Begin
Why not use marketing and promotional material from the movie studios?
The cost of obtaining these posters was an exorbitant cost for the screeners in Ghana.
To compound this, the military dictatorships in charge of the nation during this time prevented the importation of printing presses and other large-scale industrial equipment that would have made movie advertising sleek and efficient.
Additionally, the films (and subsequent posters) were frequently rolled up and transported throughout the country to the next screening location.
Thus, the durability and wow-factor of the posters became paramount.
Local artists and video club owners wanted to ensure their hard work and investment were not destroyed during transportation or display.
Rather than paint large posters on paper for the movies, these posters were hand-painted onto the much more durable canvas of flour sacks, often stitched together to become large enough to serve as posters.
In some posters, the markings and weight of the flour sacks are still visible through thinning paint.
Using fabric meant that these posters, while still subject to weathering, held up better being folded and rolled and shipped across the country than their paper counterparts.
These bags provided for a large surface area to re-imagine the film artwork, usually 40-50 inches in width and 55-70 inches in height.
What makes these posters even more remarkable than their size is the images they portray.
Often, the imagery on the posters comes about from one of two primary ways: the artist is inspired by the VHS cover art or is given a rundown synopsis of the film from the video club owner and left to their creative devices to determine how to market the film.
This liberty and freedom of expression became the hallmark of these posters: bold, gory, sensational, and above all, colorful.
These posters tantalized the audience and were uniquely identifiable as a representation of not only Ghanaian culture but the unapologetic reinterpretation of advertising.
Competition amongst video club owners also facilitated the growth of the creativity and sometimes goriness found in the posters.
To lure in viewers, intense scenes are portrayed on the posters, hinting at the action or adventure to come, with powerful moments caught in a freeze-frame with the individual touch of each poster artist.
Ghanaian Movie Posters Today
Today, the use of hand-painted movie posters in Ghana is almost extinct.
With the introduction of more affordable and accessible technology, the change in government rule, and the cost of printing prices dropping significantly, these posters have become a relic of days gone by.
Most had fallen out of disuse by the 1990s.
Their value, however, has not diminished over time. Galleries selling paper poster reprints of these average around $20, with original paintings beginning at $500 and full-size posters even selling for tens of thousands of dollars.
The Resurgence and How To collect Them
Obviously, I think Ghanian Movie Posters are amazing! In fact, I highly suggest trying to get your hands on some.
You can either look for the old school pieces from the 80s and 90s or start collecting from an online contemporary gallery called “Deadly Prey Gallery” This gallery has a roster of 10 artists they represent and all profits go to the artists!
The gallery’s website says, “We are dedicated to the preservation of hand-painted Ghanian movie posters while supporting the artists currently painting these movie posters in Ghana.”
You can also have a painting commissioned specifically for you, buy an original or pick up a few prints.
If collecting art and movie posters is new to you then you may want to check out these articles to gain some clarity.
- Is An Artist’s Proof Worth More Than A Limited Edition?
- Why Is Framing a Movie Poster So Expensive?
- 10 Most Desirable Movie Posters to Have in Your Collection
- What Is A Quad Film Poster? (All You Need to Know)