The "Hairdresser and Barbershop Signs in Africa" exhibition, which presents original boards from Cameroon, Senegal and the Central African Republic, alongside photographs documenting barbershop and hair-salon signs in Togo, Benin and Ghana, dating from the 1970-ies to the present day - stands as testimony of change characteristic of modern Africa and its popular art scene. The advertising signs contain all aspects of a specific popular genre, with similarities and differences mirroring the times of their appearance - the stylistic signature, fashion trends and influences from abroad, at the same time revealing a strong respect for the traditional ways of combing hair - the starting point for almost all modern hairstyles. The importance of hair, conceived as powerful medium in traditional African societies, along with its aesthetic and symbolic values, has not been forgotten in contemporary African society. Inherited ideals that meet and merge with contemporary expressions, in this case, new and authentic stylizations and imported styles, create a harmonious symbiosis evident in varying formal designs in the context of elaborating hairstyles for the purpose of creating a visual embellishment of the head. Authentic hairstyles from the past have not persisted in modern Africa alone - their presence has been felt for the past fifty years in the African diaspora, which, in search of its roots, among other things, exposed its hair in the symbolic act of claiming ancestral heritage. Hair was used to encourage identity. However, the transatlantic merging went both ways; the exchange itself enriching both sides with new knowledge and cultural contents. And while Africa legitimizes the past of the diaspora, the United States of America, on the other hand, offer impoverished African societies their own projection of a standard of life to strive towards. It is for these reasons that the American impact is so visible in numerous spheres of social and cultural life, especially in the spaces of"popular" or "urban" culture. However, it is important to stress that advertising signs did not appear as a result of American popular culture. This creative expression appeared in Africa in the last decades of colonial rule, and bloomed in the 1960-ies, at a time when African countries underwent the process of liberation from colonialism.
The medium of painting - portraiture and advertising signs - has become one of the most present expressions of popular culture, and the signed or anonymous works are a dominant symbol of all urban spaces. Their production is based on the Western model of advertising primarily emphasizing the functional aspect of the product which corresponds with market needs. Advertising signs are sought by smaller or larger businesses, as well as most craft and merchandise shops that use this form of service promotion. Barbers and hairdressers are - due to the changing dynamic of fashion trends - the best buyers of sign products, and this has brought about the intense production of advertising boards.
Advertising signs/boards bare distinctive but differing styles depending on the country of origin and based on the talent of the artist and his ability to create a harmonious visual whole. The creators of popular forms are able to impose a certain aesthetic which surpasses conventions, because they also, as do creators of high-art, have a "feel" for the spirit of the times that is transposed into spheres of their own interests and possibilities. Besides possessing a certain artistic awareness and craft, most of these "autodidactic" artists do not aim for a defined artistic position, rather a better life standard and existential bare necessities. Their social position binds them to the underprivileged groups from which they themselves sprang, and for who these products are mainly made. However, regardless of their visual aptitude, painted barbershop signs, with their semantic and visual content, mark an era, and their decorative qualities have added a new image, powerful and full of life, in all urban areas of contemporary Africa.
Even if in today's hyper-realty the brushstroke seems archaic, painted boards are a testimony and inevitable document of the visual identity of a social environment. This may well be one of the reasons for the subsistence of this dynamic, pulsating art form.
The exibition catalogue is bilingual (English/Serbian)
|Title||Hairdresser and Barbershop Signs in Africa|
|Illustrations||64 coloured illustr.|