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Larry Ossei-Mensah on his curatorial vision for 'Soul of Black Folks' by Amoako Boafo

Seattle Art Museum

13 Jun 2023 - 10 Sep 2023 | Seattle, US

Experience the beauty and complexity of Blackness in Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo’s debut solo museum exhibition Soul of Black Folks. Working primarily in portraiture, Boafo uses vibrant color and textured finger painting to tell stories of Black subjectivity, Black joy, and the Black gaze.

Inspired in part by W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal 1903 work, The Souls of Black Folk, the exhibition explores the concept of “double consciousness,” in which Black people must navigate their self-identity through the gaze of others. Boafo’s powerful and engaging figures—created between 2016 and 2022 and influenced by modern variables including the COVID-19 pandemic, the media’s commodification of Black bodies, and continued systemic oppression—are raw, intimate, and energetic as they come alive via carefully sculpted layers of paint. Together, Boafo’s portraits form a vivid assemblage of Black life around the world.

The Menu, 2020 | Amoako Boafo

Growing up in Ghana, Boafo never felt his Blackness needed claiming. In Vienna, everything was different. For the first time, he felt a need to create artworks which encompassed exactly who he was and how he wished to be seen. From that feeling, the artist’s practice transformed and his global popularity reached new heights.

The exhibition draws its title from sociologist and Pan-Africanist W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal 1903 ethnographic study of Black life, The Souls of Black Folk. It was in this work that Du Bois—who is buried near Accra, Ghana where Boafo grew up—coined the phrase “double consciousness” to describe the experiences of Black people constantly having to look at themselves through the eyes of others. Through his work, Boafo challenges the “othered” gaze placed on Black figures that Du Bois describes—and which he experienced firsthand in Vienna—to reclaim the stories and voices of Black people from all walks of life.

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is presented in partnership between Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco. The exhibition is curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah.

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