DOWNTOWN — African movie posters painted over three decades — on the backs of flour sacks and advertising many voodoo-themed films — will be on display in a new art exhibit in the Loop.
The exhibit of hand-painted posters, called "Demons, Snake Girls and Evil Trees," opens Thursday and runs until March 30 at Harold Washington College's President's Gallery, but the story begins in Ghana, more than three decades ago.
According to Brian Chankin, owner of Odd Obsessions Movies, 1822 N. Milwaukee Ave., this unique "look into another world" connects directly to American film culture of the 1980s and '90s when mobile cinema clubs in Ghana began showing imported films to African audiences, moving from village to village with a TV, a VCR and a generator.
Without access to sleek Hollywood advertisements for big budget films, the cinema clubs commissioned local artists to paint promotional posters about many films familiar to Western audiences, among others. Those posters were painted on the backside of used flour sacks at times without knowledge of the film's plot or content.
In a poster rendition of "New Jack City," for example, Wesley Snipes' image is clearly taken from scenes in the movie "Demolition Man."
Chankin, a certified film buff and self-described "obsessive collector," began accumulating the African pop culture pieces about three years ago and has amassed a collection of about 200 posters from the era.
"I saw them and they reminded me of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards — ridiculously cool," Chankin said. "Something I felt like nobody in their right mind would even think existed ... just the uniqueness, and the familiarity of movies I've been studying my whole life."
The "mesmerizing, idiosyncratic paintings" cover a wide range of American, Indian and Nigerian culture — Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood films, respectively — all through an equally foreign artistic lens. And the canvas flour sack paintings are large — many about 5-by-4 feet in size.
The overall number of posters made is unclear, according to Chankin, but films easily recognizable to American audiences include "Escape to Witch Mountain," "Sister Act," "Live Wire," "Evil Dead II" and many a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick.
A selection of Nigerian movie posters from Chankin's collection will be featured in Harold Washington College's exhibit, according to Jason Pallas, the college's art curator.
"One of the things were trying to do for the gallery is build our audience and tie in to the arts community," Pallas said. "And one of my themes is collection and collaboration."
As opposed to the "conceptualist abstraction that's taken root" in Chicago in recent years, Pallas said the African-movie paintings are accessible to any audience — "all out awesome paintings" that may be of particular interest to students throughout a range of disciplines from film, English, African studies and biology, among others.
While the new exhibit will feature a specific portion of Chankin's collection — posters related to Nigerian film — Pallas said the collection is a particularly interesting subset.
"They all draw imagery and text in one way or another from the movie," he said. "There's a lot of sorcery involved; people giving sacrifice, animal magnetism, people becoming animals or having some anthropomorphism. Nigerian films tend to have a voodoo theme or spirituality in that way. Nature is a big part of it."
An exhibition of Chankin's growing poster collection, including African-made posters of movies he's commissioned himself, will also be displayed at Odd Obsessions Movies in conjunction with the downtown exhibit.
The Harold Washington College exhibit is free and runs from Feb. 27 to March 30, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday or by appointment at the President’s Gallery, 30 E. Lake St. Harold Washington College will screen Nollywood films on Tuesdays during the run of the show.