Galerie Cécile Fakhoury presents the solo exhibition by Ivorian and American artist Ouattara Watts: Ouattara Watts in Dakar. This is the third collaboration between the artist and the gallery after the major exhibition Before Looking at this Work, Listen to It in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 2018 and the solo show at La FIAC in Paris in 2019.
Ouattara Watts in Dakar, a title, like a program, that carries within it all the enthusiasm of an artist for a city. Ouattara Watts’s link to Dakar is a deep and sensitive one. In his curriculum, a few Senegalese dates mark his long international career, including two years of the Biennale of Contemporary African Art – 2016, which has waited for him so long, and 2018, which finally consecrated him. The story, however, goes far beyond that. Ouattara Watts in Dakar is the consecration of an intimate relationship of the artist to this beloved city of culture that inspires him for its poetry and the great figures of intellectuals it has grown and still hosts; for its musicians, for its languages and for its ocean.
The works were conceived especially for the show, and everything in them resonates with Dakar; starting with the color palette. The orange pinks so characteristic of the artist are present and cohabit here in a new way with deep blues and sub-Saharan skies, winter storm grays and harmattan yellows.
The format of the paintings also calls us to Dakar. Watts’s monumental frescoes, selected moments of infinite cosmogonies or visual breaths of the great plains of Côte d’Ivoire, give way to more condensed formats where the world is played out in just a few square meters of canvas. In Dakar as in Watts’s work, the trivial is always neighbor of the sacred. On canvas, collages of borrowed images adjoin the painting in a elaborated flat tint, opaque surface that sometimes lets the canvas show through as if it were the genesis both of the image and the world (Travel in Space, 2022). The visual experiments – black holes of grey matter spread with fingers – take their meaning in dialogue with the mysterious equation at the heart of which is an ancient African statuette adorned with golden peas (Intercessor #1, 2022). The idea of a matrix emerges, dynamically connecting two distinct worlds together.
To make sense of Watts’ works, to read beyond and after contemplating them closely, one must step back, apprehend the whole, the balance of forces in the canvases, the solids, the voids – their very particular rhythm, jazz and afro-beat syncopations cherished by the artist, as jubilant a tool for painting as is the brush. Cauris, cola, Dogon column, Fibonaldi suite, logogram, Pi and Bozon repeated again and again like an incantatory formula to decipher. The languages of Ouattara Watts are then assembled, these series of cryptic symbols that have followed the artist throughout his career; unless perhaps it is he who follows them in a liberating quest in search of the metaphysical and spiritual links that unite men beyond time and geography.
The works of Ouattara Watts then operate as spaces of projection. They are charged with a non-explicit meaning that one must gradually discover in order to give shape to a visual narrative in which various apprehensions of socio-historical contexts (Tirailleurs Sénégalais, 2022) and the multicultural sensibility at the heart of the artist’s practice are articulated. In Dakar, then, the universalism of Ouattara Watts’s painting resonates more than ever: the artist’s mystical macrocosms enter into dialogue with the concrete microcosms of the city and give us the opportunity to dream of a world that is fluid and brimming with vibrant poetry.