Boafo relocated to Vienna in 2014 to join artist Sunanda Mesquita, who is now his wife. Seeking a more robust art scene, he was initially optimistic about his prospects in the new city. “I thought that Europe, or the West more broadly, is more open to painting—that it’s a career that your parents will not discourage you from going into,” Boafo said. “But then when I arrived, I had a very difficult time because spaces rejected me, saying they don’t show African painting.” Moving from a predominantly Black country to a white one, Boafo became hyperaware of the ways Black people are perceived and treated in white spaces. He channeled his frustrations into “Body Politics,” the series of paintings that would lead to his first big break as an artist.
One such work, Reflection 1 (2018), is a self-portrait of the artist sitting naked with his knee raised to his chest, gazing at his mirrored reflection. It portrays a tender moment of introspection; a glimpse, perhaps, into Boafo’s attempts to reconcile with the stereotypes pushed onto him. With his face turned away from the viewer, we can only see Boafo through his reflection.
In another piece from “Body Politics,” Homegoing (2018), a Black man steps forward in a dynamic contrapposto pose and looks downward like the Farnese Hercules. Instead of a flayed lion skin under his arm, Boafo’s protagonist carries a copy of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016). Covering approximately 250 years of familial history between two half-sisters, the novel is set in both Ghana and the United States; its title refers to the belief that death allowed the spirits of enslaved peoples to return to Africa. Like Gyasi, Boafo prioritizes the rich and multifaceted stories of the African diaspora, centering people who have long been left on the margins of painting.