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”.