Photo: Installation photo from “Armand Boua: Forgotten People,” courtesy of Ethan Cohen, New York.
The peoples of the Ivory Coast have inhabited the lush tropics of Africa for more than 12,000 years. The land was home to several independent states until the nineteenth century, when the imperialist forces of France subjugated its peoples for more a century as part of the European scramble to pillage the continent of Africa of its vast wealth of natural resources. Hence the country’s current name, which came from the voracious French and Portuguese merchants who divided West Africa into five “coasts”: ivory, gold, grain, pepper—and slavery.
In 1960, Félix Houphouët-Boigny led the Ivory Coast to independence and ruled for land for 33 years. In 1999, a coup d’état took place, setting the stage for two civil wars in the new century. The upheaval has been devastating with human rights violations reported on both sides. The nation currently ranks 172 (0f 188) on the United Nations Human Development Index, a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators. As with many Africa nations post-independence, the struggles facing the peoples of the Ivory Coast are largely ignored by the world that continues to profit off its resources.
“Until the lion has a historian, the hunter will always be the hero,” an African proverb wisely observes. Thus we are fortunate that a new wave of African artists have made their way on to the global stage. Insiders always know more than outsiders, and are not encumbered by the false narratives that have burdened the white man since the days Rudyard Kipling wrote poems of it. Today, a panoply of artists from a wide array of disciplines steps to the forefront of the depictions and discussions of Africa in the twenty-first century.
After being featured prominently at the seminal 2015 Saatchi Gallery group show Pangea 2, Ivory Coast painter Armand Boua (b. 1978) has brought the story of his people to the attention of the world. Armand Boua: Forgotten People, currently on view at Ethan Cohen, New York, now through January 28, 2017, is the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States. Forgotten People presents a selection of recent works made from tar and acrylic on cardboard. His subjects are the children of the Ivory Coast, the generation that will inherit the legacies of the past. Boua reveals, “I wanted to show their suffering, their way of life, so that people are finally aware of this painful reality they pretend not to see.”
Boua’s paintings are evocative portraits that stand as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit against the forces of destruction and disgrace. Working in Abidjan, the nation’s capital, Boua is sensitive to the influence of urbanization and industrialization on his people. His paintings are neither romaniticized nor heroicized images of suffering, but rather a meditation on the very nature of survival and struggle.
As an insider, Boua tells it like it is, avoiding the stereotypical thinking of the West and its attendant mythologies. Boua’s work conveys a visceral understanding of the challenges his people face, while avoiding calls for sympathy through overt sentimentality. Instead, he shows us the world as it is, using found materials to convey the textures of life while invoking the essence of alchemy. By transforming detritus into art, Boua reveals the profound depths of humanity and the power of the mind at work. Despite all that his people have endured, they persevere through a combination of ingenuity, imagination, and innovative thought. Forgotten People reminds us that artists have the power to change the way we look at the world.
All artwork: © Armand Boua, courtesy of Ethan Cohen, New York.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.