Aboudia, Quitte Le Pouvoir: New Paintings by Aboudia, Jack Bell Gallery, London


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The Independent Culture

During the 10 day battle for Abidjan, when violence in the Ivory Coast turned into civil war, Ivoran artist Aboudia remained in the city and hid in his basement studio, listening to the sound of gunfire. He went outside to see what was happening and then returned to paint. That was in March 2011.

The paintings that Aboudia produced were extraordinary: large canvases of armed men with skulls for heads against enraged red backgrounds. They came to the attention of Sydney-born gallerist Jack Bell, 28, who specialises in contemporary African art.

Now Aboudia’s work has been bought by Saatchi and the baseball star Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). Still only 30, he lives part-time in Brooklyn. His talent has been compared to that of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which is fair. The power of these paintings hits you as soon as you walk in the gallery.

Like Basquiat, Aboudia combines text with image, responding to political injustice with fury expressed through colour and line. Djassa (2012) shows a series of stick figures with electrified expressions. Their eyes are black whirlpools of paint. One face has been fitted with a gas-mask. Hair stands on end in a cartoonish state of shock.

Indeed, the figures appear to be grotesque renditions of the cartoons onto which they are painted. The background of this painting is a collage of reference, from a blue packet of Gauloises to an image of a bare-chested man dancing and a cut-out text bearing the words le vaudou.

Aboudia has roots in the north of the country, where the voodoo tradition is strong. It is an art that does not depend on Western aesthetic influence nor can be patronisingly dismissed as “folk,” or worse, “primitive.”

When Aboudia briefly attended art school, he was frustrated by the pressure to paint sunsets, peasants wearing straw hats, and donkeys. He was homeless at the time.

Special Etude (2012) shows peach-faced children sitting on a sofa and reading books. It is an image of disarranged comfort. The figure to the right has imploded; the lower half of his body is a rain of paint.

Abstraction here becomes a weapon. The thick dark outlines of Art Nouchy (2012) are grounded in Ivoran street art, or Nouchy, which Aboudia has described as “children’s style” graffiti. It is a medium through which the people of his country can “[pass] a message through me.” This is a raw yet controlled brilliance.