Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks
Amoako Boafo, Monstera Leaf Cape, 2021, paper transfer and oil on canvas. Image and work courtesy of the artist.

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA - July 13 - Sep 10

by Susan Kunimatsu

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in North America. Its title is drawn from W.E.B. Du Bois’ book The Souls of Black Folk, in which the pan-African sociologist coined the term “double-consciousness” to describe the pressure on Black people to see themselves through the eyes of others. Boafo’s work centers the Black point of view. In his larger-than-life portraits, Black people gaze directly at the viewer. Their expressions convey the joy, confidence, dignity and serenity of people comfortable in their own skin. Boafo’s signature technique is to paint faces and skin with his fingers, giving them a texture and depth that stands out against flat backgrounds in neutral colors or the bright tropical hues of his native Ghana.

Boafo is one of a cohort of prominent African and African American portrait painters, including Kehinde Wiley, Jordan Casteel and Mickalene Thomas. His rapid rise to acclaim stunned the art world. Already in his 20s when he entered Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Accra in 2007, he moved to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he is now based. He began painting self-portraits as a way to work through the racism and isolation he experienced as an African living in Europe. Gaining confidence as an African and an artist, he progressed to portraits of friends, family members and Black celebrities.

When the demand for Boafo’s work surged in 2018, his paintings were being resold at ten times their original prices. Art speculation threatened his career by concentrating his paintings in the hands of private collectors more interested in their monetary than their artistic value. Museum exhibitions such as this one, organized by Larry Ossei-Mensah – a Ghanaian American curator and writer known for championing emerging and mid-career artists of the African diaspora – will bring Boafo’s work to a broader public and help to establish his reputation as an artist whose work will still speak to us years from now.

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