Icons and demons

Gallery exhibition showcases Ghanaian concert party genre

At festival time, the roadsides in the West African nation of Ghana are adorned with huge, colorful sign board advertisements, depicting scenes from all-night musical and theatrical events performed outdoors by itinerant musicians and actors.

Artist Mark Anthony's painting "In This World, If You Do Not Allow Your Brother to Climb, You Will Not Climb" is a depiction from local folklore in his native Ghana, West Africa.

The performances, called concert parties, begin with urban popular music and comedy sketches and conclude with a multi-act play that combines vaudeville, morality drama and Christian revivalist sermon. The narrative paintings, usually common house paint on plywood, are used as a way to entice audiences, many of them semi-literate, to the concert parties.

The acknowledged master of this genre is Mark Anthony of Agona Swedru, Ghana. Eighteen of his concert party paintings will be featured in a new exhibition, "Hollywood Icons, Local Demons," which opens October 17 at the University Gallery. The opening reception will take place that night from 5 to 8 at the gallery in the Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Ave., on the Medford/Somerville campus.

The concert party paintings are large (usually six feet high and seven feet wide) and colorful, with startling combinations of images that both presage and recreate the performances. Many depict violent and disturbing fantasies, while others draw on events from daily life. There are mystic dwarves and forest giants from folklore and ideas of Satan from Christian prayer groups. There are images from Hindu religious pamphlets, Indian films and B-grade Japanese and Hollywood movies, including vampires, Jurassic Park animals, King Kong, Hercules, Sinbad and Return of the Living Dead.

Concert parties in Ghana are not solely dramatic performances. Instead, they are affective, aesthetic and religious expressions of a rapidly changing society.

"Hollywood Icons, Local Demons" runs through December 17 and is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For information, call (617) 627-3518 or visit the web site www.tufts.edu/as/gallery