John Foster | Accidental Mysteries

Film in Transit

In the 1980s when the VHS craze finally made its way to West Africa, almost all rural villages of Ghana were without electricity and modern conveniences. Budding entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to bring movies to the villages by way of portable gasoline-powered generators, a television set and easy to acquire VHS tapes. In order to advertise the screening event, local artisans were hired to paint a poster of the feature being shown.

Using feed sacks sewn together (the posters vary in size ranging from about 40–50 inches wide to 55–70  inches high), the posters were hand-painted with nothing more to work from than the title and the actors who were featured on the box—if there even was a box. These artists, who had no formal training (particularly in anatomy) produced imagery that is often hilarious, and certainly bizarre.

Eventually, competition arose between mobile cinema operators going after the same business, so skilled artisans were employed—the idea being that the better the poster, the more tickets they would sell. Though choices of movies were limited from the beginning, local demand preferred Hollywood action and horror films, low budget American schlock, Bollywood features, Hong Kong martial arts movies, and native Ghanaian and Nigerian features.

“Today, with digital printing available and many villages having access to electricity, this industry is all but dead,” says Brian Chankin of Deadly Prey Gallery in Chicago. “There are just a limited number of these authentic movie posters from the 1980s left, which is what I try to acquire.” 

Like so much authentic African art before it, fakes are being made daily in West Africa—just to serve the tourist trade.


All images courtesy of Deadly Prey Gallery, Chicago.

Posted in: Graphic Design, Media

Jobs | July 23