... This passage (and sentences such as “… for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line”[i]) continue to be, quite rightly, quoted ad infinitum. In comprehending Boafo’s fascinating paintings, the artist invites us to metaphorically join several important dots. So, too, our wider considerations of The Soul of Black Folks might well lead us to the not inconsequential matter of Boafo having been born in Ghana, the West African country to which Du Bois relocated in his advanced years, having defiantly renounced his US citizenship, and became instead a citizen of a state only recently emerged from the colonial yolk, under the visionary leadership of the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah. Du Bois, the grand old man of Pan-Africanism and Black advancement, died in the Ghanaian capital of Accra in 1963, just a few years shy of his one hundredth birthday. Visitors to Ghana and Accra might take the opportunity to visit the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture (his grave being adjacent to the center), though there’s no way of knowing how many people in Ghana are aware of the country’s connection to Du Bois. I fondly imagine that Boafo, having been born in Accra, might well have emerged into adulthood with an important familiarity with the Ghanaian, diasporic legacy of Du Bois; a familiarity derived from Boafo’s homelife, schooling, or his own personal quest to consider Ghana’s place in the history of Pan-Africanism.
Enter the remarkable practice of Boafo, a painter who “has built a practice synthesizing the ways that art both reflects and perpetuates the power of representation. Exclusively portraying individuals from the Diaspora and beyond, Boafo invites a reflection on Black subjectivity, diversity, and complexity. His portraits are notable for their bold colors and patterns, which celebrate his subjects, as a means to challenge representation that objectifies and dehumanizes Blackness.”[ii] But as much as Boafo’s paintings create important dialogues with Black subjectivity, history, diasporic identity and so on, his art very much exists on its own terms and with its own unique terms of reference. It’s difficult to settle on one group of adjectives with which to describe Boafo’s work because of its wide-ranging embraces and sensibilities. I am instead minded to reach for a noun with which to describe his paintings’ resonances. The noun I’ll utilize is presence, which is to say, Boafo’s paintings beautifully and wondrously evoke a blessed state or fact of existing, or perhaps more accurately, being in the present. Even if we were minded to locate these paintings in the somewhat traditional historical or visual culture references and contexts of Black pride, Black resistance, Black futurity, and Black humanity, we might find ourselves reverting to the simple yet profound understanding that Boafo brings us settled beautiful portraits, void of the traditional (for want of a better word) resonances with which we have tended to read the Black portrait. Not only are Boafo’s people aesthetically beautiful, but beautiful on account of the deep abiding and settled humanity the paintings evoke.
Frequently, though not exclusively, rendered in front of plain backgrounds, Boafo’s sitters or subjects evoke a range of affirmative sensibilities, not least ones such as humanity and a settled, near-blissful state of simply being here. Everything about these paintings also seems calculated to draw attention to these representations of individuals or couples wholly and refreshingly removed from the well-intentioned, but oh-so-frequently clumsy and constraining, socially prescribed readings of the Black image that white culture tends to indulge. Far too frequently, painted images of Black people are read not as portraits of unique individuals, each with their own particular sense of self and distinctive markers of identity. Instead, the Black image is frequently read as not much more than an undifferentiated racial type. Yet with their tranquil expressions ranging from joy, pleasure, and happiness to self-assured contentment, Boafo’s sitters are a perfect response to the formidable oscillating weight of abjection and iconicity that his paintings push back against. With its subtle tweaking of Du Bois’s most famous published work, this body of paintings draws attention to the idea of a core, unifying diasporic commonality that creates, sustains, and reflects the innate humanity so frequently, rudely, and casually denied to us as Black people.
[i] W.E.B Du Bois, “The Forethought”, The Souls of Black Folk, Eighth Edition, Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909: vii
[ii] “Amoako Boafo,” Roberts Projects, last modified February 15, 2022, https://www.robertsprojectsla.com/artists/amoako-boafo
The above extracts are from an essay [pp. 38-43 by Eddie Chambers “Amoako Boafo: Some Considerations”, text for catalogue published on the occasion of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, Amoako Boafo’s first museum show, curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah, showing at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), May 22 - Oct 22, 2022. [The exhibition’s first showing was at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) San Francisco, Oct 21, 2021 - Feb 22, 2022. MoAD and CAMH partnered to present the show.] Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks published by Cameron + Company, Petaluma, CA, in association with Museum of the African Diaspora and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2023: 38-43