Ghana gains some serious international attention for being home to some phenomenal (and unusual) cultural artefacts, from its hand-painted knock off Hollywood posters, to being renowned for turning the business of death into something remarkable with the elaborate business of ‘Fantasy Coffins.’
We take a look at a few of these cultural artefacts that make Ghana great.
The Golden Era of Ghana’s movie Posters
During the 1980s to the mid 1990s, Ghana experienced its Golden Era of mobile kino. This saw small, moving cinema/ video clubs travelling from town to town across Ghana and setting up independent screenings, equipped with just a portable generator, VHS player, projector and video cassettes. The movies were usually an interesting selection of Kung Fu, Bollywood, local Nigerian and Ghanaian features as well as some Hollywood action and horror blockbusters.
What was the most intriguing part about these roving kino clubs, was the manner in which they advertised the screenings. Without affordable access to printing, they turned to hand painted signage as means of advertising. With many talented sign painters in each town already well experienced at painting signage for local businesses, they were the perfect answer to creating low cost movie posters with their own individual spin. Like, who doesn’t remember the human sized fish that tried to devour James Bond in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me”?
It has been regaled (and appears) that the sign painter would be instructed to entice people to come and see the film being screened in whatever way they thought convincing - leaving them to their own devices and the only limit being painted on one 50kg bag of flour or two stitched together.
These open ended briefs exhibited the imagination of the artist who would create hypothetical scenes from a film they had probably never seen, nor really knew the synopsis of. The results are awesome. These works of art are now collectors items today, and a wonderful and tangible reminder of a time gone past that was the Golden Era of Mobile Cinema.
We were lucky enough to catch-up with Jasper (one of the most well-known OG Sign Painters from the Golden Era of Ghana's movie posters and a still practicing sign painter today) at his studio recently in Teshie, Accra to look through some of his work.
Within the Ga ethnic group in Ghana, there are a small group of Coffin Makers who are gaining serious international attention for their elaborately designed caskets, that are anything but ordinary.
Fantasy Coffins are regarded as serious business within the Ga community, as it's believed that life transcends death and that the deceased will continue on with their profession in the afterlife. By creating caskets reminiscent of the deceased person's profession, it’s believed that this will prompt them to remember their livelihood left behind when continuing on into the life after death.
The elaborate caskets can resemble anything from airplanes to fish, from sneakers to packs of ciggies. There are currently a handful of fantasy coffin makers in Ghana, with most working in the Accra region, but @paajoecoffins (works pictured above) is one of the most well known, and has been in the game for the past 50 years. What would your Fantasy Coffin be?
When European cloth arrived on Accra’s shores in the wake of colonisation, the Fante people who live along the Western coastline of Ghana, adopted the use of European military regalia to their own local military organisations of young men, called Asafo. The word Asafo is roughly derives from ‘sa’ meaning war and ‘fo’ meaning people.
The flags called ‘Frankaa’ became a key piece of identity for the Asafo. Asafo companies were established as these military organisations became more developed, and the flags were used to assert the wealth and power of the company as well as explicitly challenge rival groups. They were also key pieces in documenting the history of the Fante people, using simple imagery and designs to depict a historical event or allude to one of the many, highly revered proverbs from Akan culture. The block images were usually powerful, visual metaphors. Animals were commonly used to symbolise strength and power, for example the image of a crocodile and fish to represent the proverb “fish grow fat for the benefit of the crocodile who rules the river”.
The timelessness of the Asafo flags’ block-coloured, patchwork aesthetic makes them iconic as documents of history on Fante culture. The cultural significance of Asafo flags still stands strong as they often still displayed at different social events in Fante villages, including festivals, ceremonies and funerals of Asafo warriors.