An exhibition has opened of movie posters, of familiar films, but unlike any movie posters you seen before.

Movie makers are notorious for controlling how their films are promoted, but what happens when a local market produces its own unique movie posters?

Painted on canvas for the local market in Ghana, this exhibition is a collection of over one hundred posters painted by hand onto canvas and collected in the late 1990s.

There are names of films here that are instantly recognisable, once blockbusters we queued up to see and now slump on a telly on a Bank Holiday Monday to watch in-between the DIY and gardening.

The collection as started when the co-producer of the Angelica Huston movie, The Witches was in Accra in the late 1990s and saw how “his” film was being marketed locally, and was impressed by the extraordinary artworks being produced.

The artists don’t just reproduce the original posters, but subverted them, and elevated them for the local market. As the collection owner, Karun Thakar says the artists are “ultimately created a unique and anarchic art form which is pregnant with new meaning”.

The film posters were commissioned by mobile local entrepreneurs taking the films to a range of communities and using the cloth posters that could be rolled up, unfurled and transported very easily as they criss-crossed the country.

The temporary nature of the posters, produced very cheaply by local painters and carted around the country makes their survival as an archive of that period of time in Ghana also quite remarkable.

These dramatic and highly charged images, usually some six or seven feet high, were conspicuously displayed by the roadside or in prominent public positions to alert filmgoers to the release of new films.

Dotted around the exhibition are short quotes from the artists, often very young, about how they ended up with this job.

“In primary school class five, when I was eleven, we had four boys called Samuel, but because I had always been good in art, all my friends called me Samuel Arts. I drew video posters for a video library for five years” Samuel Arts, born 1969.

The intense competition between films enhanced the creativity and imaginative possibilities realised by the artists in the film posters and established their individual renown.

The collection isn’t just Hollywood, but also the prodigious output from Nigeria commonly referred to as Nollywood.

As an exhibition, it is both a visual feast, but also an insight into how a different culture reinterprets western ideas for their local markets.

The collection celebrates the talent of the varied artists who used to produce these posters. However, with advances in digital printing these hand painted posters are no longer wanted. It’s a lost art.

The exhibition, African Gaze: Hollywood; Bollywood and Nollywood film posters from Ghana is free to visit at the Brunei Gallery, near the British Museum, and is open until 23rd March.

The Brunei Gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday: 10.30am to 5pm, with a late night on Thursday until 8pm.


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