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The Life Of The Party

The Life Of The PartyA lively exhibit of billboards advertising performances by Ghana’s traveling theater troupes – called “Concert Parties” – are on display at Tufts.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.18.02] An extremely popular form of entertainment in Ghana, "Concert Parties" are a unique blend of drama, music and dance. Lasting for hours at a time, the shows captivate their audiences with an eclectic mix of stories based on everything from traditional folklore to Western movies. American audiences can get a unique glimpse of these performances through a vibrant collection of billboard art - used to promote the "concert parties" - on display at Tufts.

"A Ghanaian tradition since the 1920s, concert parties and the art that surrounds them are the subject of a fascinating exhibition at Tufts University's Aidekman Arts Center," reported The Boston Herald. "'Hollywood Icons, Local Demons: Popular Paintings From Ghana' showcases the work of the acclaimed master of the medium, Mark Anthony, a Fante born in the country's central region."

Merging myth and reality, the billboards provide a unique glimpse inside the "Concert Party" tradition.

"Vibrant colors, bold facial expressions and a flair for the dramatic make these two-panel pieces delightfully unforgettable," reported the Herald. "It might be difficult for Americans to relate to a nine-hour Ghanaian concert party or imagine a play combining vaudeville, morality drama and Christian revivalist sermon. Anthony's art, however, has the power to transport even the most reluctant outsider to worlds both strange and strangely familiar."

Though displayed as art, the billboards have a very practical role in Ghana.

"[Anthony's] gigantic house-paint-on-board images - about the size of two doors hinged together - that he makes for various [performers] are carted from town to town as they tour the country," reported the Herald. "Utilizing few words... the concert party paintings serve a function similar to that of movie trailers: tantalizing potential customers with fantastic exploits and unforgettable characters."

Using multimedia, the Tufts exhibit gives visitors an opportunity to see the billboards - and the performances they advertise - in action.

"Two videos playing in the spacious Tufts gallery shed essential light on this art form. One shows performances at a concert party," reported the Herald. "The more useful video illustrates the concert boards in action, as it follows the travels and travails of a troupe of performers riding from rural villages to towns, to the capital city of Accra."

The artwork plays an important role in the traditional performances.

"The remembered scenes help viewers flesh out the play's rudimentary costumes and props," reported the newspaper. "When a diabolical beast claims the corrupt preacher in ‘The Judgment Day' - a concert party by Jackson Volta and the Wailers - the crowd can recall the red-tongued, furry, black-winged demon pitted against a white-skinned angel from one of Anthony's boards."

It's an art form that has been passed down for generations.

"Although only educated through middle school and untrained as a painter, the artist... learned much from his father, who in turn learned from his own father," reported the Herald. "The resulting paintings are full of surprises - from shimmering landscapes worthy of Rousseau to creatures Disney would envy."

 

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