THE SEMINAL TEXT OF W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868-1963) inspired the title of a forthcoming solo exhibition of Amoako Boafo. The Ghanaian-born painter grew up in Osu, where Du Bois, the author of “The Souls of Black Folk” is buried. “Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks” will be on view this fall at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco.

Introducing the exhibition, the museum invites viewers of Boafo’s work to consider Du Bois’s ethnographic study of Black life, the veil of race he discussed and the concept of double consciousness he developed. The theories Du Bois raised more than a century ago hold true today. The idea that Black people are constantly having to look at themselves through the eyes of others, motivates Boafo.

His contemporary portraits push back against the notion that Black people should code switch or feel the need to comport themselves to something other than their authentic Blackness. The artist asserts and celebrates the identity and dignity of Black people and centers the Black gaze.

 


AMOAKO BOAFO, “Bella Sontez,” 2019 (oil on paper). | © Amoako Boafo. Courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles

 

MoAD is reopening this fall with major shows dedicated to two of Africa’s most closely watched contemporary artists. The first solo museum exhibitions of Boafo and Malawi-born artist Billie Zangewa, who lives and works in Johannesburg, debut Oct. 20.

Both artists focus on figuration and explore Black subjectivity in their work. “Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks” is guest curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah and “Billie Zangewa: Thread for a Web Begun” is guest curated by Dexter Wimberly.

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco is presenting the first solo museum exhibitions of Billie Zangewa and Amoako Boafo, two of Africa’s most closely watched contemporary artists. Both focus on figuration and Black subjectivity.

 

ZANGEWA’S PRACTICE focuses on the lives of Black women. She makes hand-sewn, textile “paintings”—detailed urban landscapes, domestic scenes, and portraits composed with pieces of raw silk. Zangewa’s own experiences inspire the work, which speaks to universal narratives of womanhood and motherhood, and the often overlooked women’s work that upholds families, communities, and society at-large, contributions the artist refers to as “daily feminism.”

Her work has been presented in gallery exhibitions, art fairs, and group museum shows in Africa, Europe, and the United States, including “A Constellation” at the Studio Museum in Harlem and “I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa,” which is currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. “Billie Zangewa: Wings of Change,” her first solo show with Lehmann Maupin, was presented at the gallery last fall in New York.

“Thread for a Web Begun” at MoAD presents works spanning the past 15 years alongside new ones made specifically for the exhibition. After its run at MoAD, the show will travel to the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. (spring 2023).

 


BILLIE ZANGEWA, “An Angel at My Bedside,” 2020 (hand-stitched silk collage). | © Billie Zangewa. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

 


BILLIE ZANGEWA, “Heart of the Home,” 2020 (Hand-stitched silk collage). | © Billie Zangewa. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

 

IN A SHORT PERIOD, Vienna-based Boafo has garnered worldwide attention for his striking portraits of his friends, representing all walks of life, and the creative visionaries he admires. The artist first gained exposure in the United States through galleries in Los Angeles and New York and major art fairs in Chicago and Miami, Fla.

He began 2019 with his first U.S. solo show at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles. “I See Me” featured recent portraits from his Black Diaspora series. That fall, he was an artist-in-residence at the Rubell Museum in Miami. In 2020, Boafo collaborated with Kim Jones, Dior men’s artistic director, on a Summer 2021 collection.

“Amoako Boafo: I Stand by Me,” the artist’s first solo gallery exhibition with Miriam Ibrahim gallery was presented last fall in Chicago. In March, Boafo participated in “Homecoming: The Aesthetic of Cool” at Gallery 1957 in Accra. The three-artist show with his friends and fellow Ghanaian painters Kwesi Botchway and Otis Quaicoe, rising artists in their own right, marked the fifth anniversary of the gallery. Boafo’s second gallery exhibition at Roberts Projects opens in September.

At MoAD, Boafo is presenting more than 20 works created between 2018 and 2021. His portraits are distinguished by visual tension. The artist depicts his subjects wearing bold patterned or vividly hued clothing, often against sharp white backgrounds, and renders their skin using his figure tips. The textural strokes add visual depth and interest to his portraits and character and individuality to his subjects. In fall 2022, “Soul of Black Folks” will travel to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Amoako Boafo’s contemporary portraits push back against the notion that Black people should code switch or feel the need to comport themselves to something other than their authentic Blackness. He asserts and celebrates the identity and dignity of Black people and centers the Black gaze.

 


AMOAKO BOAFO, “Tasia Cobbinah,” 2020 (paper transfer and oil on canvas). | © Amoako Boafo. Courtesy the artist and Mariane Ibrahim

 

IN MARCH 2020, MoAD joined museums nationwide, shuttering temporarily due to the pandemic. After an extended closure resulted in severe revenue shortfalls, the museum’s ability to continue operating was in jeopardy. With support from artists, collectors, and commercial galleries, MoAD staged a benefit auction on Artsy. The event raised nearly $450,000. The museum also received nearly $500,000 in national and local grants. The infusions helped sustain the institution. Having rebounded, MoAD will open its doors in October, for the first time in 19 months.

MoAD is welcoming visitors back to a refreshed museum with a newly renovated lobby, upgraded theater, and redesigned gallery spaces. In addition to solo shows of Boafo and Zangewa, programming will also include “Impasse of Desires,” a site-specific installation by San Francisco artist Sam Vernon; “MoAD Emerging Artists presents Sydney Cain,” featuring an ongoing series of work about ancestral memory and Black myth by San Francisco-based multimedia artist Sydney Cain; and “Beyond the Sky,” a selection of four short films by contemporary African artists curated by Leila Weefur.

(Exhibitions originally planned for 2020 have been rescheduled. “David Huffman: Terra Incognita” will now open in spring 2022 and “Mary Lovelace O’Neal: Whales Fucking” is slated for fall 2022.)

“The past year and a half has been extremely difficult for many, especially the Black community,” MoAD Executive Director Monetta White said in a statement.

“We are pleased to welcome our valued supporters and visitors back into our space this fall. MoAD is the center for contemporary Black art and culture, bringing people together through a shared experience of art, and I could not be more excited to reopen with this line-up of incredible artists representing the African Diaspora. I am also extremely proud of our staff and trustees who have worked hard and weathered the storm with us. Now, more than ever, MoAD is essential to sustaining and growing the thriving community of Black artists.” CT

 

“Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks” and “Billie Zangewa: Thread for a Web Begun” are on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Calif., from Oct. 20, 2021-Feb. 27, 2022

 


AMOAKO BOAFO, “Golden Frames,” 2019 (oil on paper). | © Amoako Boafo. Courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles

 

BOOKSHELF
“The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois was first published in 1903. “Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold: A Postcolonial Paradox” documents a group exhibition presented at MoAD in 2019 that was co-curated by Dexter Wimberly and Larry Ossei-Mensah. Currently sold out, “Amoako Boafo: I SEE ME” was published in 2019 by Roberts Projects LA to accompany Amoako Boafa’s first exhibition at the Los Angeles gallery.

 

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