JAMESTOWN, R.I. — Though they were born 60 years apart, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and Abdoulaye Diarrassouba — better known by his professional name, Aboudia — are considered to be the best and most influential of Côte d’Ivoire’s artists in the post-colonial period. While both men came into the art world from different backgrounds — Bouabré through professional training at the schools of the French colonial government and Aboudia on the streets of the city of Abidjan as a graffiti artist — their work shares some common themes, such as a celebration of their cultures and commentary on both the times in which they lived and their tribulations in becoming two of their nation’s most recognizable artists.
Now, their works are juxtaposed together in an exhibit curated by New York City gallerist Ethan Cohen called “African Avant-Garde: Aboudia and Frédéric Bruly Bouabré,” which is on display at the Jamestown Arts Center through June 26.
“By bringing these artists’ work together, we are paying homage to two African masters of world stature,” a press release for the exhibit stated. “Hitherto, Africa has been vastly overlooked as a force on the international art scene. Finally, it is gaining its place in the global dialogue, and these two artists are in the forefront of that achievement.”
The work to bring this exhibit to Jamestown goes back to 2018, when Exhibitions Director Karen Conway first met Cohen.
“He’s really an expert in contemporary Chinese work, and that’s how I really knew him, but I know that he’s interested in incredible artists everywhere, and because of COVID and the issues between China and the US, getting contemporary Chinese artists in is really impossible at this time,” Conway said. “So in talking to Ethan, he was like, ‘Well, let me put this proposal together,’ and I had already heard about Aboudia, and when they put the proposal together, it was just like a must-do,” Conway said.
In March, Aboudia became the first artist to have a solo online auction at Christie’s New York, which has only helped propel him further into the spotlight.
“He’s just really started to skyrocket more and more, so it’s been such an honor just to feature this work,” Conway said.
The show debuted last Saturday with an outdoor collage workshop in the morning followed by an afternoon talk with Cohen himself. With the outdoor collage, visitors were invited to paint the mural wall behind the JAC into a collage reminiscent of Aboudia’s work with collage and painting to celebrate World Collage Day, which fell on the same date. Visitors are still encouraged to contribute to the wall for the remainder of the exhibit.
For Cohen, the respect for these masters of African art is evident, as is his desire for more people to recognize their talents and the talents of artists from an area where they are often overlooked.
“Bouabre’s consciousness emerged during the first opening of Africa onto the world stage as a post-colonial independent series of countries. As such, his work centers on imagery that explicitly places recognizably African themes and figures in tandem with those of other continents. His message is both one of global diversity and unity,” Cohen said. “Philosopher, visual poet, and artist, he iterates universal truths that bind humanity. He early inhabited a time, as embodied by the 1955 Bandung Conference of non-aligned Asian and African states, when it seemed possible for emerging countries to create an alternate global awakening.”
“Aboudia arrived at the same sense of a global platform many decades later, just when the world re-embraced its commonality at a post-Cold War moment of digital media convergence,” Cohen added. “As an artist who grew up on the street, expressing his vision initially through the freedom of graffiti, he matured his culturally site-specific imagery into what is now instantly recognizable across continents for its power and immediacy. He is the inheritor of the mantle of Jean-Michel Basquiat and arguably Africa’s most celebrated young artist.”
The exhibit is on display through June 26 during the JAC’s gallery hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or by appointment, which can be booked by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Jamestown Arts Center is located at 18 Valley Street in Jamestown. For more information, visit their website, jamestownartcenter.org.