The Ivory Coast painter Armand Boua is a leading figure in the new wave of contemporary African artists currently attaining global recognition. Boua was featured prominently at the seminal 2015 Saatchi Gallery group show Pangea 2. Born in Abidjan in 1978, he is still based there. Although his work appears in shows and auctions throughout Africa, around Europe and in London, “Forgotten People” is Boua's first solo exhibition in the US as part of Ethan Cohen Gallery's series devoted to emerging African artists.
Boua's work depicts shadowed silhouettes outlined on found material like packing cardboard inked with tar and often set against jagged washes of bright color. At once semi-abstracted and suggestive of discarded news images, his figures are said to be inspired by the anonymous waves of forgotten children lost in the street violence of West Africa. They lived for a moment in the public mind through published photographs but are now eclipsed into shadow, mere memories of abandoned symbols, and symbols of abandonment. Boua recycles in paint the unknown images to haunt us just as he recycles discarded cardboard. His works have no frames, no pretension or intention to occupy the approved realms of art, being mere artifacts of Africa's ghettos migrating like their depicted archetypes, offering nothing but themselves. They are accidentally in the world and his art makes them live beyond the accidental.
In the show, four monumental paintings measure 2 x 2 meters, each of their handcrafted cardboard canvases glued together as sturdily as any poster sentenced to survive on a street wall. In the “Les bras Mogo du ghetto”, strident faces, perhaps joyous perhaps angry, appear in group shots, their expressions melding together. We know them interchangeably if at all. They inhabit the cardboard jungle intensely, forever sharply sunlit and in shadow, Africa's vitality and loss. In the upper gallery, the mother and child motif reminds us of western influences, the long tradition of Madonna and Child paintings, asking us to commemorate the vulnerable as divine across the cultural gulf. In the nearby painting “Le Fistine et son n'guehe” , Boua offers us the most isolated and abstracted rendering of virtually unintelligible figures, their forms melting, the loss complete.
In his use of abstraction, of decomposed photo-imagery and found materials, Boua recycles Western techniques back to us. African art once shaped the work of Western artists, from Picasso to Odilon Redon to Giacometti, giving them new eyes, liberating them to see new vistas. Boua's work has absorbed the dialectical exchange. It asks us to look again.