Today, a barbershop in Ghana looks like nothing out of the ordinary—on the walls, you’ll find digitally printed posters of various hairstyles that one can choose from. A line of swivel chairs invites you in. Barbers await their next customer. It’s simply a neighborhood barbershop. However, before the convenience of digital printers, these same Ghana-based barbershops looked much, much different.
Starting in the ’30s and lasting up until the ’90s, it was common for Ghana’s barbershops to commission artists to paint various hairstyles. Not only did the paintings show what the barbershop offered, they also celebrated African culture and hair trends at the time. In the ’70s, it was the afro. In the ’80s, paintings often portrayed box braids and high-top fades.
These pieces of art also related to political, sociological, and popular culture topics of the time. Throughout “the ‘80s, [signs] dealt with political leaders from the US and from other countries. You have celebrities on display and you also have hip-hop icons that feature prominently,” Ashesi University Professor Joseph Oduro-Frimpong tells Atlas Obscura. This demonstrated Ghanaians’ awareness and commitment to their views.
Though the signage trend has fallen out of style with the arrival of modern technology, the paintings have made their way around the world. To this day, works from Ghana’s barbershops are kept in private collections and museums around the world.
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Photo: Edgar Chaparro via Unsplash