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Now that we are all restricted to home movie watching, it’s perhaps a better time than ever to nostalgically reminisce on the joy of a trip to our local theater. The 1980s brought the introduction of foreign‐made films and their movie magic to Ghana. Soon enough, an industrious group of entrepreneurs created a VHS rental system with the help of local artists and traveling salesmen. Movies were proffered throughout Ghana and could be rented with a television set, speakers and generator. The crucial part of the salesman’s kit was the movie poster. Made from 50-kilo flour sacks and oil‐based paints, these posters enticed locals to rent movies that could be viewed in family homes, open air viewing spaces, and eventually video clubs.

Exterior of Ahenfie Theater, 1993
Exterior and interior of Ahenfie Theater, 1993
Exterior and interior of Ahenfie Theater, 1993
Extreme Canvas 2, page 25
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III

Artists often did not have the chance to see the movie before creating the poster which led to the outrageous, bold and campy images that can be seen throughout the exhibition. A Golden Age of Ghanaian movie poster painting flourished until the mid‐1990s when home video technology became more easily accessible to individuals, competition among increasing numbers of movie venues became fierce and the inexpensive nature of the erasable chalkboard as an advertising mechanism made the costs of poster production prohibitive.

The group of artists that created these posters revolutionized the way art from Ghana is viewed and discussed. A job painting these posters was a highly coveted position, as were the apprenticeships that developed around this artistic endeavor. Although the images on the posters delight and make us laugh or sometimes squirm, they were created to captivate local audiences. What might seem over the top to our eyes now could have been the deciding factor for a potential Ghanaian customer. Regardless of the relevancy of the posters’ imagery, what cannot be denied is that these posters speak to our shared interest in the fantastical escape that is going to the movies.

Joe Mensah and his apprentices outside of Accra, 2005
Joe Mensah and his apprentices outside of Accra, 2005
Extreme Canvas 2, page 31
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
2020 Texas Gladiators, c. 1995

2020 Texas Gladiators, c. 1995
Joe Mensah (Ghanaian, 1966 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 46 × 40 in.

2014.28.1

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

 Joe Mensah is one of the seminal Ghanaian movie poster artists. His style and attention to detail influenced the many younger artists that apprenticed with him. This poster depicts characters from the 1982 Italian film 2020 Texas Gladiators. The movie tells the story of a band of freedom fighters as they attempt to overthrow a fascist government in post‐apocalyptic Texas.

Killer Instinct, 1996

Killer Instinct, 1996
Isaac 
Otchere (Ghanaian)
Oil on cotton canvas; 65 × 41 in.

2014.28.2

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Killer Instinct was later retitled Behind Enemy Lines. Here, we see Robert Patrick’s character, Johnny Ransom, poised for action.

Joe Mensah in front of Joe Mensah Art Services, 1998
Joe Mensah in front of Joe Mensah Art Services, 1998
Extreme Canvas, page 288
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
Jai Santoshimaa, c. 1995

Jai Santoshimaa, c. 1995
Tekwa
 (Ghanaian)
Oil on cotton canvas; 64 × 40 in.

2014.28.3

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Filmed in India, Jai Santoshimaa focuses on a main character whose devotion to a Hindu goddess helps her survive the wrath of evil gods. The poster pays direct tribute to the film’s origins with clothes and characters that appear to be Indian in origin. The swirling, mixed colors in the background give the poster an otherworldly feel.

Back in Action, 1996

Back in Action, 1996
Samuel Art (Ghanaian, 1969 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 66 × 47 in.

2014.28.4

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Back in Action is a direct‐to‐video movie filmed in 1993. It tells the story of an ex‐special forces soldier who teams up with an edgy cop to save his sister from her troublesome boyfriend. The artist Samuel Art is the nephew of Joe Mensah and one of his first apprentices. Samuel Art is known for emphasizing the muscularity of his subjects, as is seen on the rippling arm of fitness star Billy Blanks.

Samuel Art in his studio, 1998
Samuel Art in his studio, 1998
Extreme Canvas, page 289
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
Once a Thief, 1996

Once a Thief, 1996
Joe Mensah, (Ghanaian, 1966 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 68 × 43 in.

2014.28.5

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

This poster is a classic example of the strategies Ghanaian posters used to draw in moviegoers. Although billed as an action‐packed romantic comedy, Once a Thief is depicted here with guns and explosions as its main draw.

Mallam vrs the Devil, 1997

Mallam vrs the Devil, 1997
Joe Mensah, (Ghanaian, 1966 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 62 × 44 in.

2014.28.6

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Mallam vrs the Devil tells the story of an ancient demon that possesses a councilman to take revenge on the descendants of the priest that imprisoned him long ago. The poster conveys the sense of the supernatural well, with a very eerie-looking spirit in the upper half of the poster.

Last Stand at Lang Mei, c. 1995

Last Stand at Lang Mei, c. 1995
Heavy J (Ghanaian, 1975 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 72 × 44 in.

2014.28.7

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Last Stand at Lang Mei is said to be based on a true story about a squad of soldiers who are cut off behind enemy lines and must fight their way to freedom. Although not seen here, Heavy J’s artistic specialty is posters for kung fu films.

Heavy J. in front of his poster advertising Night of the Demons 3, 1998
Heavy J. in front of his poster advertising Night of the Demons 3, 1998
Extreme Canvas, page 286
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
Cyborg, 1996

Cyborg, 1996
Charles Manu (Ghanaian, b. 1971 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 71 × 46 in.

2014.28.8

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

The 1989 film Cyborg tells of a future America ravaged by a deadly plague and a gun for hire trying to rescue a cyborg who holds the cure. Explosions and fragments of debris frame the massive minigun on the bottom of the poster while a two‐tone background of blue and yellow evokes cold steel and hot lead.

Ninja Clan, 1991

Ninja Clan, 1991
Leonardo, (Ghanaian, 1960 ‐ )

Oil on cotton canvas; 65 × 46 in.

2014.28.9

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Leonardo is one of the founding movie poster painters. In addition to his detailed work, he is also known as a master of fonts, including imitations of Asian characters.

Leonardo in his studio, 2005
Leonardo in his studio, 2005
Extreme Canvas 2, page 33
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
Delta Force 3, c. 1995

Delta Force 3, c. 1995
Stone Art (Ghanaian)

Oil on cotton canvas; 72 × 45 in.

2014.28.10

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

In this stirring conclusion to the Delta Force trilogy, a terrorist places an atomic bomb in Miami and the Delta Force is called in to find the bomb and the terrorist responsible. The poster seems to be a recreation of the original film’s box office art with some modifications, including the omission of the Delta Force logo.

72 Desperate Rebels, 1996

72 Desperate Rebels, 1996
Jones (Ghanaian)

Oil on cotton canvas; 66 × 45 in.

2014.28.11

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

This poster advertises a kung fu movie made in Taiwan. You cannot miss the enormous bald figure in the center, but vivid scenes in the background draw viewers’ eyes across the poster.

Firepower, c. 1995

Firepower, c. 1995
Chris Art by King (Ghanaian)

Oil on cotton canvas; 70 × 45 in.

2014.28.13

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Firepower was released in 1993 and is set in Los Angeles in the year 2007. The poster is a remake of the movie’s box office art, with the background replaced by red, orange and white colors surrounding the main characters.

Martial Outlaw, c. 1995

Martial Outlaw, c. 1995
Rastee
 Boy (Ghanaian)
Oil on flour sack; 44 × 22 in.

2014.28.14

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Martial Outlaw is a film about a DEA agent who meets up with his LAPD officer brother to hunt down a drug ring controlled by the Russian mafia. The poster is a remake of the box office art with a bit less attention to detail paid to everything except the muscles.

Under Police Protection, c. 1995

Under Police Protection, c. 1995
Socrates Art (Ghanaian, 1965 ‐ )
Oil on flour sack; 69 × 44 1/2 in.
2014.28.17

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Socrates is a nickname given to the artist by his admirers. Unlike other movie poster artists, he worked further away from the major film centers of Ghana, and thus his particular painting style takes a different tact than that of his contemporaries.

Ninja Hunter, 1993

Ninja Hunter, 1993
Dennis (Ghanaian)

Oil on cotton canvas; 63 × 44 in.

2014.28.18

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

The text on the right side of this poster reading “Wall Street Video Club” refers to one of the many clubs that developed in tandem with Ghana’s movie rental fad of the 1980s and 1990s.

Video club audience in Tema, 1998
Video club audience in Tema, 1998
Extreme Canvas, page 32
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
Royal Warriors, c. 1995

Royal Warriors, c. 1995
Dallas (Ghanaian)

Oil on cotton canvas; 74 × 46 in.

2014.28.19

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Although the plot of this film revolves around ninjas, the majority of the poster depicts a shirtless man with rippling muscles.

Ninja Champion, 1995

Ninja Champion, 1995
Gyesie
 (Ghanaian)
Oil on flour sack; 69 × 44 in.
2014.28.20

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Kohraam, 1992

Kohraam, 1992
Aiowaanu’s Arts (Ghanaian)
Oil on flour sack; 48 × 37 in.

2014.28.21

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

These two posters advertising the same movie are just one example of the many different interpretations of the films that circulated throughout Ghana. While one poster is focused on action, the other poster is more focused on the characters themselves. This includes paying special attention to the impressive muscles of the main character.

Cyborg Cop, 1993

Cyborg Cop, 1993
Joe Mensah (Ghanaian, 1966 ‐ )
Oil on cotton canvas; 68 × 45 in.

2014.28.25

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Cyborg Cop, c. 1995

Cyborg Cop, c. 1995
Unknown artist
Oil on flour sack; 51 × 45 in.

2014.28.32

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Child’s Play 3, 1992

Child’s Play 3, 1992
Jam (Ghanaian)

Oil on cotton canvas; 59 × 43 in.

2014.28.27

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

I Shall Return, c. 1995

I Shall Return, c. 1995
Jas (Ghanaian)
Oil on cotton canvas; 67 × 45 in.

2014.28.29

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

The Boxer’s Adventure, c. 1995

The Boxer’s Adventure, c. 1995
DA Obeng (Ghanaian)
Oil on cotton canvas; 72 × 51 in.

2014.28.33

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

In The Boxer’s Adventure, an evil man tries to take political control of the home province of three young kung fu masters who inevitably take a stand to stop him. DA Obeng, a.k.a. “Bright” is known for his use of blue as well as the sideways glances on the faces of the action stars that are seen on this poster.

Video club audience in Tema, 1998
DA Obeng, 1998
Extreme Canvas, page 292
Photographs by Ernie Wolfe, III
Fist of Justice, c. 1995

Fist of Justice, c. 1995
Unknown artist
Oil on cotton canvas; 63 × 42 in.

2014.28.34

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Enter the Game of Death, 1996

Enter the Game of Death, 1996
Jonas Golden Boy (Ghanaian)
Oil on cotton canvas; 64 × 42 in.

2014.28.35

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

The dominant image of this movie poster is two characters, each holding martial arts poses. Unlike other posters, the two characters are curiously not rippling with muscles, but instead have sleek frames and smooth skin.

Black Dawn, c. 1995

Black Dawn, c. 1995
Kawku (Ghanaian)
Oil on flour sack; 66 × 43 in.

2014.28.36

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely


Steel, 1998

Steel, 1998
Babs (Ghanaian, 1975 ‐ )
Oil on flour sack; 63 × 43 in.

2014.28.37

Gift of Jay and Helen Lavely

Steel is based on the story of the DC Comics superhero Steel who is played by sports legend Shaquille O’Neal. Babs, the artist, is one of the “Kumasi Four” who are known for their airbrush‐like style. He pays great attention to detail without many visible brushstrokes. He is also known for the use of a single border color and the use of blue and white colors for highlighting as seen here.





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