Indigo Arts presents a collection of painted signboards from barber shops and hair-dressers in Ghana, Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and Togo . Brightly painted in commercial housepaints on plywood or masonite, these signs are a colorful, humorous, and sometimes outrageous contemporary African folk art. They reflect both the ancient African tradition of hairbraiding and hair-cutting and the cultural clash of imported (usually American) influences.
In Africa a "barbershop" or "hair salon" may entail nothing more elaborate than a barber or hair-braider with a chair set up in the open and a signboard hanging from a tree or market stall. The signs may be painted by the barbers or hairdressers themselves, or by paid sign artists. They are intended both to identify the businesses and to advertise the services offered, depicting a catalog of intricate women's hairbraiding patterns or the latest in men's hair styles. Barbers' signs can often be dated by the hairstyles depicted - today inspired as often as not by events, styles and personalities in the USA. We find "Mike Tyson", "Mr. Tee", "House Party", and "Cocaine Cut" offered alongside such old favorites as "Nelson Mandela", "Back Bush", "Sportin' Waves" and "Boeing 707".
Several important museum shows have featured African Hair-dresser’s signs, including Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Hair at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA in 1995 and Hair in African Art and Culture at the Museum of African Art in New York in 2000. African hair signs were also featured in a January 6, 2002 Style article in the New York Times magazine. Our barber signs were featured in an article in Lucky magazine (January 2002). One of our signs was included in Sharne Algotsson's book, African Style: Down to the Details.
Indigo Arts Cards publishes a collection of postcards and notecards of African barber signs.
We have recently received three excellent new books on African barbershop, hairdresser and other trade signs. Some of the images may look familiar to our customers. Indigo Arts director Tony Fisher contributed many of the photographs to African Signs and Hairdresser and Barbershop Signs in Africa. Get them here while they are still in print!