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Boeing 707
Unity Art (Kumasi, Ghana),
Oil on plywood, 1999


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. Get them here while they are still in print!

Joe's Hair That Talks:
The Vibrant Sign Culture of Ghana
Written by Greg Coyle
Designed by Jason Wen
Published by Women in Progress, 2009
128 pages

$38 (hardcover)

African Signs
Written by Rob Floor
Designed by Gert Van Zanten
w/ introduction by Paul Faber - Senior Curator Africa at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
Published by KIT Publishers
Haarlem, Netherlands, 2010
208 pages

$49 (hardcover)

Hairdresser and Barbershop Signs in Africa
Written by Natasa Njegovanovic-Ristic
Designed by Jason Wen
Published by Museum of African Art
Belgrade, Serbia
December 2009 - May 2010
112 pages


Out of Stock

The Signs (listed by country):

Benin (11/22/14)

Burkina Faso


Ivory Coast






Books about African Hair and Hair Signs

Arts of Africa Gallery

1400 North American St., #104 • Philadelphia, PA 19122
Phone: (215) 765-1041 • Toll Free: (888) INDIART • Fax: (215) 765-1042

Al l photographs and text Copyright Indigo Arts Gallery, LLC., 1998-2015. Use without permission prohibited.

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