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Art

Amoako Boafo Is Sending an Artwork to Space

Shannon Lee
Jul 30, 2021 4:03PM

Portrait of Amoako Boafo by Francis Kokoroko. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim.

A Blue Origin launch of its New Shepard rocket, showing the location on the nose of the capsule where Suborbital Triptych will be attached. Courtesy of Blue Origin.

Rising-star artist Amoako Boafo has been commissioned to paint three panels of a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket ship that will be launching on a roundtrip mission to space this fall. Titled Suborbital Triptych, the commission is part of a partnership between the Jeff Bezos–founded aerospace manufacturer Blue Origin and the new art program at Uplift Aerospace, curated by Jill Clark. “Amoako’s complex portrayals of the human spirit make him the perfect visionary to contemplate what that means and what it looks like in relation to this pivotal moment for mankind,” Clark told Artsy.

“The purpose of the Uplift Art Program is to inspire new ideas and generate dialogue by making space accessible and connected to human experiences,” Uplift Aerospace’s CEO Josh Hanes added in a statement. “Artists have a unique capacity to evoke fresh perspectives and interpret unfamiliar terrain. The profound strength of Amoako’s portraits for the first Suborbital Triptych will bring another dimension to the power that propels the New Shepard rocket.”

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The initiative is one of a growing number involving art-world power players making their way into the cosmos. Mega-collector Yusaku Maezawa plans to take more than a half-dozen members of the public (all of whom, initially, were expected to be artists) to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket in 2023.

Boafo’s space-bound commission is just the most recent development in his meteoric rise. A member of The Artsy Vanguard 2020, with skyrocketing market demand, global institutional recognition, and a steady stream of brand collaborations, in just a few years the Ghanaian painter has become one of this generation’s most coveted contemporary artists. In late 2019, on the heels of his residency at Miami’s Rubell Museum, he had a sold-out solo booth with Mariane Ibrahim at Art Basel in Miami Beach. At auction, competition for work has been similarly heated. Boafo’s 2020 secondary-market debut achieved over 13 times its high estimate, and prices have continued their astronomic ascent since. Meanwhile, on Artsy, the artist inspires some of the highest rates of inquiries per available work.

“To create a painting that will launch into space is unimaginable, and frankly surreal,” said Boafo. “I wish one day to experience what my characters will see.” The commission represents a unique technical challenge for the artist, who is known for his intensely tactile and luminous portraits that challenge expectations of Blackness and celebrate subjectivity. “It’s not like painting on canvas,” explained the artist’s gallerist, Mariane Ibrahim. “These materials—the surfaces and the paint—were made specifically to withstand space travel.”

While the exact subjects of the panels are still being developed, what is certain is that they will continue Boafo’s humanitarian explorations of Black joy. “He is an artist that exudes humanity and human touch, between the use of his hands and the way he captures faces,” said Ibrahim. “In that way, he was the perfect artist for this first commission.”

In addition to the commission, Uplift Aerospace will make a charitable contribution to two nonprofit organizations of Boafo’s choosing, with a focus on supporting conservation and healthcare for all. The beneficiaries will be announced this fall during the ceremony celebrating the spacecraft’s return from space, further cementing the organization’s mission to “preserve the planet beneath our feet as we reach for the stars.”

“It is important to me that this joyful representation of Blackness is honored, and in this way will be cemented in our future and for others,” Boafo told Artsy. “This will be clear in the work I am creating, for future generations.”

Shannon Lee
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019