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‘Baptized by Beefcake: The Golden Age of Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana’

“When you walk into ‘Baptized by Beefcake: The Golden Age of Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana,’ an exhibition now at New York City’s Poster House, you are confronted by the stares of film heroes of the late Eighties and early Nineties—each with a distinctly Ghanaian rendering,” writes Anakwa Dwamena. “For over a decade beginning in the 1980s, paintings like these—typically made using acrylic paints on recycled flour sacks—were an answer to the country’s lack of large-scale commercial color printing, as the show’s curator, Angelina Lippert, explained to me. Local interpretations of the original Hollywood VHS sleeves, or representations of scenes from the movies embedded with local symbolism, ushered in this genre of ‘Africanized’ Hollywood aesthetics. Across a continent reeling from revolutions and counterrevolutions, characters like Rambo, Conan, and Commando particularly resonated with viewers inspired by their exaggerated strength and daring confrontation with the powers that be.

Sandwiched between the poster for Aliens (1990) and Ghost (1990), and across from Eddie Murphy’s Vampire in Brooklyn (1996), is perhaps the poster most representative of the genre: Daniel Anum Jasper’s seventy-four by forty-six-inch painting of The Barbarians (1995). Two muscle-bound men—the titular barbarians of the movie—their long dark hair cascading down their naked upper bodies, thrust their swords upwards, piercing the neck of a giant snake that looms above them. These crossed swords, according to the exhibition panel, refer to the ‘Akofena’ symbol, which represents courage and valor in many West African motifs—somewhat ironic, given that they win the day in spite of their childish antics.

As a late preteen in Tema, a coastal city twenty miles from Accra, Ghana’s capital, I underwent a short-lived apprenticeship with our church’s piano player, compelled by my parents’ dreams of upward mobility (a Bach-playing son wouldn’t hurt). The pianist also managed the local video rental store. The most positive outcome of this association for me was that in exchange for a shift spent rewinding returned VHS cassettes with a manual crank, I could rent a movie or two for free. The Schwarzenegger films Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer (1984), as well as The Barbarians, which one blogger summarized as a ‘sword-and-sorcery version of Dumb and Dumber,’ came home with me this way.”


For more information, visit posterhouse.org.

Category: Exhibition
Poster House
119 West 23rd St,
New York, NY