Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston , Houston, Texas, United States
27 May 2022 - 02 Oct 2022

Amoako Boafo, Reflection I (detail), 2018. Oil on paper, 51 1/8 x 43 3/8 inches. Image and work courtesy Roberts Projects, Los Angeles and Private Collection.

Amoako Boafo, Reflection I (detail), 2018. Oil on paper, 51 1/8 x 43 3/8 inches. Image and work courtesy Roberts Projects, Los Angeles and Private Collection.

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is the debut solo museum exhibition in the United States for Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo. The show is a presentation of over 30 works created between 2016–2022. The subjects featured in Boafo’s paintings represent the nuance and complexities of Black life globally. Boafo creates images that actively center Black subjectivity, Black joy, the Black gaze, and radical care as a foundational framework for his artistic practice. Variables such as COVID-19, the constant resistance against systemic oppression, the active combatting of Anti-Black rhetoric, and the commodification of Black bodies in the media are some of the concerns that heighten this exhibition’s urgency and relevance.

Soul of Black Folks is a timely exploration into the varying strategies that Boafo employs within his practice that capture the essence of the Black figure. The crux of his work is a high-stakes interest in investigating the relationship between the self, representation, and history. He questions the art historical canon by asking—Who is represented within art history? Who has been omitted from the canon? Anchored by extremely calculated brushwork combined with skillfully executed finger-painted strokes, his mark-making generates a rich visual dichotomy that produces an evocative tension between foreground and background. Moreover, this spatial tension yields both inward and outward-looking explorations of Boafo’s subjects and the political act of painting Black figures themselves.

The seminal ethnographic study of Black life behind the veil of race by sociologist and Pan-Africanist W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, inspires the exhibition’s title. This research resulted in the coining of the phrase “double-consciousness,” which interrogated the notion that Black people constantly had to look at themselves through the eyes of “others.” Du Bois’s text serves as an invitation to think deeply about Boafo’s artistic practice and how it challenges an “othered” gaze often applied to the Black body.

Soul of Black Folks invite us as a society to meditate on the questions—Where can Black people find a respite? Furthermore, how can Boafo’s work inspire and teach us about Black life and humanity? For Boafo, the paintings featured in this exhibition serve as a means of self-preservation—a celebration of his identity, Black people, and Blackness. These works are more than mere portraits; they are images constructed to assert the dignity and importance of Black people.

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is presented in partnership between Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), San Francisco. The exhibition is curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah.

About the artist
Amoako 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’s 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, 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, and Paris.

About the curator
Larry Ossei-Mensah uses contemporary art as a vehicle to redefine how we see ourselves and the world around us. The Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic has organized exhibitions and programs around the globe at such organizations as Twitter, Marianne Boesky Gallery, MOAD, MASS MoCA, and most recently he co-curated with Omsk Social Club 7th Athens Biennale in Athens, Greece in 2021. Ossei-Mensah is the former Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at MOCAD in Detroit and currently serves as Guest Curator-at-Large at The Brooklyn Academy of Music. A native of the Bronx, Ossei-Mensah is also the co-founder of ARTNOIR, a 501(c)(3) and global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class.