Amoako Boafo’s Paintings Stare Back at You

At Mariane Ibrahim, Chicago, the artist presents nine, large-scale portraits of Black figures that recall Gustav Klimt’s symbolist paintings

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BY Devon Van Houten Maldonado in Reviews | 08 OCT 20

Amoako Boafo’s paintings are full of movement. Evidence of the painter’s hand abounds – quite literally. The artist creates the glistening marks that represent his figures’ vibrant Black skin by swashing his fingertips through wet paint on the canvas, resulting in soft striated smears of cool colours. In ‘I Stand by Me’, the artist’s first solo exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim gallery in Chicago, Boafo’s portraits of Black figures command physical space. The nine works on display are all large in scale, with each figure taking up the entire canvas, looking down at us with careful consideration.

Amoako Boafo, Tasia Cobbinah, 2020, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim.
Amoako Boafo, Tasia Cobbinah, 2020, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim, Chicago

Tasia Cobbinah (all works 2020) depicts the titular Ghanaian fashion icon in a casual pose, hands folded coolly behind her head, eyes locked onto the viewer. Her torso is draped in a flowy fabric pattern of red and green apples, photo-transferred onto the canvas, while the background is a flat, eggshell white, making her dark flesh even more pronounced. Similarly, the subject of Green Beret dons a blouse tessellated with green leaves, reminiscent of military fatigues, her ebony skin gently peeking through a sea of green.

Amoako Boafo, Green Beret, 2020, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim, Chicago.
Amoako Boafo, Green Beret, 2020, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim, Chicago

As in the fin-de-siècle symbolist paintings of Gustav Klimt, Boafo’s figures are adorned in ornate and colourful patterns, with only parts of their limbs and faces exposed, set against broad expanses of monochrome canvas that lend the works an impression of volume and space. Ultimately, however, Boafo seeks simplicity: his figures’ inquisitive stares take centre stage, asserting their subjecthood and autonomy, boldly meeting the viewer’s gaze. In Self-Portrait with Pink Pants, it is Boafo himself who stands in the middle of the canvas, head turned to look out at us unfazed, asking: ‘Who are you and what do you stand for?’

'I Stand by Me' runs at Mariane Ibrahim, Chicago until through 24 October 2020. 

Main Image: Amoako Boafo, 'I Stand by Me', 2020, installation view. Courtesy: Mariane Ibrahim, Chicago

Devon Van Houten Maldonado is a writer and community-arts organizer based in Chicago, USA. He recently published the experimental, web-based novella Arco Iris (2020) and has written for Aesthetica, Animal, BBC, Chicago Magazine, Elephant, Even, Flash Art, Observer and Terremoto, among others. He is director of programmes at SkyART, a nonprofit art centre for youth in Chicago.

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