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Featuring over thirty works created between 2016–2022, the exhibition is a timely exploration into the varying strategies that Boafo employs within his practice to capture the essence of the Black figure. Boafo creates paintings that actively center Black subjectivity, Black joy, and the Black gaze. The brushstrokes of his vibrant portraits are thick and gestural, the finger technique emphasizing the contours and luminous skin tone of the body. His subjects’ accentuated and elevated figures are often isolated on single color backgrounds, their gaze the focal point to disrupt observation from canonical viewership.
The exhibition takes its title from the seminal text by sociologist and Pan-Africanist W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, an ethnographic study of Black life behind the veil of race. Du Bois, who is buried in Osu—a neighborhood in Accra, Ghana—where Boafo grew up, conducted research that resulted in the coining of the phrase double-consciousness, which evoked the sense of Black people constantly having to look at themselves through the eyes of others. Du Bois’ text serves as an invitation to think deeply about Boafo’s artistic practice and how it challenges an “othered” gaze concerning the Black figure.
The works featured in Soul of Black Folks center the viewers’ gaze on the presence of Boafo’s subjects, who represent all walks of Black life. He vividly and attentively illustrates the connectivity and cultural overlap of existence within the Black diaspora. Despite the physical and emotional friction of Boafo’s mark-making, his painted subjects appear confident and steadfast. Boafo’s paintings are deeply personal and intimately connected to his experience as a Ghanaian artist living and working between Vienna, Austria, and Accra, Ghana. His pictures serve as a means of self-preservation—a celebration of his identity, Black people, and Blackness. More than mere portraits, they are images constructed to assert the dignity and importance of Black people.
About the Artist
Boafo was born in 1984 and raised in Osu, Accra in Ghana. He studied at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Accra in 2007, before attending the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria. Boafo was awarded the jury prize, Walter Koschatzky Art Prize in 2017 and the STRABAG Art award International in 2019 both in Vienna, Austria. In 2019, he participated in a residency with the new Rubell Museum in Miami, Florida and in 2020 collaborated with Dior for their Spring/Summer 2021 Men Collection. His work is widely collected by private and public collectors and institutions, most recently by Leopold Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Rubell Museum, Marieluise Hessel Collection, the Aishti Foundation, Centre for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Hessel Museum of Art, The Pizzuti Collection of Columbus Museum of Art, and the Albertina Museum in Vienna.
Boafo is represented by Roberts Projects, Los Angeles and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago.