Accra-born painter Amoako Boafo started as a self-taught artist, having no formal connection to the art world as a child. “My practice began as experimenting with drawing,” recalls Boafo. “My path was not an acceptable or profitable career for a Ghanaian, but I decided to go to an art college nevertheless to pursue my passion for painting.”
In 2017, the artist was awarded with the jury prize, Walter Koschatzky Art Prize and this year, he took part in a residency with the new Rubell Museum in Miami. Today, Boafo is renowned for his intellectual approaches to the representation and celebration of the Black identity.
On view this September, I Stand By Me will mark Boafo’s first solo exhibition at Chicago-based Mariane Ibrahim Gallery. Unveiling paintings never exhibited before, the featured works are fuelled by the underlying themes of autonomy, self-reflection, integrity and the perseverance of independence.
Portrait of Amoako Boafo
Noting inspiration from great masters of classical portraiture, the new large-scale works emphasise the notion of freedom in a society which holds preconceived notions in relation to identity. “The upcoming solo exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim will be a defining moment as I continue to develop my portraiture, representing those around me,” says the artist.
“More abstract voids surround the new portraits, creating an intimacy that reveals an abstract expressionist movement. I invite the viewers for a critical reflection and to celebrate oneself.” Aptly titled, the exhibition pays homage to the artist’s present state of self-reflection and realisation during a time of crisis.
The hands and faces of the buoyant figures in the works have been finger-painted, with the lack of instrument enabling the artist to create freely and achieve an expressive skin tone. “I love that this seemingly simple motion can generate such an intense energy and unveil these sculptural figures,” explains the artist.
“The lack of control I have with using my fingers is organic, and that shows through in the abstract forms that create the beautiful faces of my subjects.”
Amoako Boafo. Nerida Cocamaro. 2019. Oil on canvas. 210x170cm
On display at the exhibition will be Buff Titanium Coat (2019), Camoflauge Hat (2020) and Joy Adenike (2019), to name a few. The subjects of the paintings serve to challenge existing beliefs surrounding the Black identity, putting forth definitive sentiments of how, as Boafo says, “Black people are not only constructing their own identities, but celebrating them.”
Through the powerful, self-assured figures, for instance as seen in the work entitled Nerida Cocamaro (2019), Boafo pays tribute to creatives, budding designers and visionaries of colour, most of whom are underrepresented. The jaunty characters, some anonymous and some known in the community, demand the attention of the viewer through their mystical gaze, strong demeanour and clothing, with a solid purpose of being seen and heard – to be a voice for the underappreciated Black diaspora.
Another work of note is Cobalt Blue Earring (2019), depicting a resilient woman certain of herself, dressed in a vibrant yellow outfit with sea-blue earrings.
Amoako Boafo. Cobalt Blue Earring. 2019. Oil on canvas. 210x170cm
The new oil works on paper and canvas mark a development in the artist’s deft technique of photo transfer and with them, the artist stands to redefine and navigate through the various forms of humanistic expression, aided by his impressionist rendering of motion. The new technique of photo transfer was first unveiled during the artist’s solo show at Art Basel in Miami Beach with Mariane Ibrahim.
For Boafo, painting is a tool employed to explore the complexities of human experience. “My hope is to present my subjects in a vivid and momentous manner,” he expresses. “My sourced gift paper wrappers explore the possibilities of the transfer method, adorned textiles on my subjects and in some, the foreground or backgrounds.
My mark-making has expanded, and will continue to expand in the way I represent my subjects throughout all of my works.” In certain paintings, the figures are reduced to partial figures while in others, the background appears as a simple wash of colour, drawing the viewer’s focus to the central character.
Amoako Boafo. Buff Titanium Coat. 2019. Oil on canvas. 80x60.5cm
Representing solidarity and individuality, the artist believes these traits have never been more crucial than now during a time of crisis, amidst the pandemic. “In times of crisis, notions are shifting,” he adds.
“Individuality has never been deemed as important or necessary, but now it is vital. Equally as important is altruism – that my validations come from myself, changing the codes, creating new norms.
The pandemic, if not for anything, has confirmed that I am on the right path, thus not waiting for validation from other people or losing hope but believing in myself and in my creativity and eventually, when the dust settles and we can all get together again, others would become believers too.” marianeibrahim.com
I Stand By Me will launch 10 September 2020 at Mariane Ibrahim
All images courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim
From the summer 2020 issue of Harper's Bazaar Art