Amoako Boafo aims to challenge the notion of Blackness

"The Lemon Bathing Suit", 2019. Photo: Art-Critique

Now, more than ever, art speaks to us through a medium that challenges without raising a fist or drawing blood; no one is more adept at saying what needs to be said than Amoako Boafo.

Looking through Boafo’s portfolio I’m immediately drawn to the Diaspora Series (2018 ongoing) with its bold colours and patterns. The series of paintings is a celebration of black life. It aims at challenging the notions of blackness that embodies and dehumanises, by assimilating it with negativity. Portraying individuals from the Diaspora and the continent by highlighting self-perception and beauty. It invites for a reflection on blackness and asks for an understanding of its diversity and complexity.

Art is not a job

Born in Accra, Ghana, brought up by his mother and grandmother along with two siblings who made their feelings clear about his career choice. But Boafo knew from an early age he wanted to paint, to be an artist. Starting his journey at Ghanatta College of Arts and Design in Ghana, Boafo credits his peers for teaching him his art. A very generous statement from someone who is so clearly naturally talented and unusually modest.

Amoako Boafo

Straight from art school, Boafo studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. Immediately finding the Austrian capital unreceptive to black people and subsequently the art scene is, in his words, “just as challenging”. He tempers this atmosphere in his first exhibition at the Roberts Project in Los Angeles, in February 2019 with a portrait series which is a celebration of his identity and blackness; an attempt at self-preservation, he says.

Just Like Egon Schiele

Talking to the Los Angeles Times, Boafo recalls his first impression of Vienna. “When I arrived in Vienna, I didn’t think of changing the way I paint or anything, but I heard certain names over and over—Klimt, Schiele, Lassnig—and I wanted to see why they were so famous. I actually love their paintings, and every now and then I would test myself to see if I could paint the way they were painting. I could, of course. But with Schiele, I was most interested in seeing how he got his results. You could really see all the brushstrokes and colours he mixed to make a painting, unlike Klimt, whose work is very well mixed, realistic and decorated, which is also good. I just want my paintings to be as free as possible, and Schiele gave me that vibe—the strokes, characters, and composition”.

It’s all in the brushstrokes

Looking at the painting, you are drawn to the immaculate texturing and the all expressions on the sitters face made more poignant by the brushstrokes; drawing the viewer into the quality of statement while allowing you to make up your own mind. The work is excellent and has a broad range, which many might consider un-appealing. This work is so far from bland. To be challenging you need to be seen and you really get the feeling that Boafo sees.

The portrait that resonates with me is “Bel”, a 2018 portrayal of a long-suffering woman, possibly his wife, giving that well-known expression of humouring a loved one and acknowledging a back seat position that is both powerful and comforting.

"Bel", 2018. Photo: fashionweekdaily
“Bel”, 2018. Photo: fashionweekdaily

Every Artist needs a break

Things moved quickly for Boafo once Kehinde Wiley, a prominent gallery owner, bought one of the paintings and then introduced Boafo to his gallery. This may not seem unusual to most but African art was not being bought in Austria; especially contemporary art, and certainly nothing that hadn’t been painted for at least two hundred years earlier.

Exhibitions follow soon after with his first exhibition at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles, titled “I see me” and, more recently, “wish you were here” also at the Roberts Projects—a phrase that resonates with all of us at this moment in time.

We Dey, a nonprofit arts organization in Vienna

Most artists would be put off by the negative response and hightail it back to Ghana. But Boafo is a stoic individual, to be seen and not to have his art whitewashed meant starting We Dey, a self-funded space for artists of any discipline to include performance, drawing, painting. In order to maintain the space, the exhibition space is funded by a successful yearly crowdfunded project. 

No one can deny that enthusiasm and hard work pay off. The aim now is to create a similar space in Ghana to support other artists. Boafo is an artist we will see much more of in the years to come. Anyone who can be quiet and extremely vocal at the same time is a force to be reckoned with—mark my words.

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