The very first day I went into Nalerigu, Ghana I noticed the colorful yet simple illustrations on the signs outside of shops. Barber shops, saloons, restaurants, butcheries, photo studios and even cell phone booths all had amazing paintings on their signs.
I started taking pictures of the signs and while reviewing my photographs I noticed a common element. Every painting was signed either “Art by Boyz2Men” or “Art by Boyz”. I went to the town’s video rental store (they have quite an impressive selection of pirated VCDs and Nigerian films) which sported a larger-than-life Boyz painting of Sylvester Stallone from Cobra. I left a message with the shop owner to ask Boyz to come to my house.
The next day he came and introduced himself as Mahamadu Mumuri (I was relieved he wasn’t one of these guys). We talked about art (as best we could, his English isn’t that great and my Mampruli is worse) and I showed him some of my photos and videos as well as the photos I had taken of his artwork. He was quite humbled to have someone take such an interest in his work.
Boyz’s work falls under the category of Folk Art because he has no academic artistic training, nor does he try to emulate “fine art“, and he uses a similar style and technique as the other sign painters in the northern region of Ghana. Outsider Art is another term you hear synonymously with Folk Art, but I hesitate to apply it to Boyz. Outsider artists are often insane and their art illustrates bizarre fantasy worlds and unconventional ideas.
A few weeks later we commissioned him to paint our portraits for our Christmas card. He paints on plywood so we had to pay for the wood and tell the carpenter to cut it at a size that would fit in our luggage. Though I did my best to make our heads the right proportions in the print out I gave him, he took the liberty of giving Heidi a much larger head. My mom says that is because “she has all the brains.”
Heidi surprised me at Christmas with a second Boyz painting. She had him make me a sign much like the ones you see in town. It advertises “William Haun Photography” and has me laying on the ground with my camera (from this photo by Kerry Spencer). My favorite things about it are the Simpsons-like fingers as well as his hand-drawn font.