Article Bio Works Projects
additional name:
Ouattara Watts
identity, myth, post-colonialism, religion
Visual Arts (painting)
Africa, Western, America, North, Europe, Western
Côte d'Ivoire, United States of America, France
created on:
August 5, 2003
last changed on:
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Hybrid Cosmologies

Ouattara was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in 1957, and studied art in Paris. Since the mid-1980s, he has become known as a painter who combines African and Western subjects and myths, iconographies and materials. He enjoyed early success as a friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and recently appeared again as an international figure when he participated in Documenta 11 in 2002. He lives and works in New York, Paris, and Abidjan.
Ouattara was reared in a family that spoke Bambara and French. His father practiced traditional medicine as a healer and Western medicine as a surgeon. The religion in his family was a mixture of “everything,” which, according to Ouattara, is voodoo. His education comprised both Western lycée (high school) and spiritual initiation into the secrets of his native Senufo religion, beginning at age seven. As a teenager, Ouattara moved to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He has been exhibiting in France since 1986, and through the connections of Jean-Michel Basquiat, whom he befriended in Paris in 1988, Ouattara had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1989. Since the mid 1980s, Ouattara has been concerned with the place of the artist as an actor in the cosmic scheme of things, for as he states, “my vision is not based only on a country or a continent, it’s beyond geography or what you see on a map—it refers to the cosmos.” Consequently, his work draws from Senufo and African heritages as much as from European Renaissance and modern traditions.

In his paintings, Ouattara combines the physicality of materials as diverse as stone, earth, coffee beans, and traditional pigments with a visual vocabulary that equally encompasses traditional African subjects as well as Western use of forms. His painting “Nok Culture” (1993), for instance, is constructed of thickly applied paint and inserted materials such as horns and a small school board used for writing exercises in Ku’ran schools. The painting’s composition features a large concentric circle, which is reminiscent of a traditional instrument used to summon spirits, and its title refers to a culture that thrived in Nigeria between 500 BCE and 200 CE. The work brings together spiritual and religious symbols and markers from a wide range of cultures, times, and regions, and unites them in an attempt to stress their similarities. Ouattara’s paintings serve as messengers between the diverse cultures and societies of his experience. For instance, in “Dark Star” (1996), a drum-playing skeleton is juxtaposed against hundreds of red handprints, footprints, and sneaker prints. Closer examination of the sneaker prints reveals that they were made with a Nike-brand sneaker, a symbol for Western consumer culture. Ouattara demonstrates the reciprocity between the cultures he physically and spiritually negotiates.

The titles of Ouattara’s paintings also indicate a wide range of references. The title of the work “Nkroumah, Berlin, 1885” (1990) refers to the colonial conference in Berlin where the division of Africa among the colonial powers was debated and to Kwame Nkrouma, the first president of Ghana, Africa’s first independent nation after colonial times. His work “Hip-Hop, Jazz, Makoussa” (1995) points to the very different simultaneous realities of late 20th century society, which are symbolized by these different musical styles.

In his most recent paintings, Ouattara combines European and African fabrics and silk-screened and photographic images with his interest in French medieval history, in Shango (the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning), or in celestial constellations (“Sirius”, 2002). With paint and collage, by way of Africa, New York and, according to Ouattara, the cosmos, he demonstrates that in this era of shifting national borders and cultural boundaries, national, cultural, and personal identity emerge from our hybrid experiences of colonial and postcolonial history.
Author: Christian Rattemeyer


*1957 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, lives in New York, USA


Solo exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation,
2005 “Ouattara Watts”, Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art, Salzburg, Austria 2004 “Crossing Currents: The Synergy of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ouattara Watts”, Hood Museum of Art, New Hampshire, USA 2003 “Ouattara Watts”, Marella Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy 2002 “From The Collection of Ranbir Singh“, Leo Koenig, New York, USA 1999 “Opere Recenti“, Magazzino d´Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy 1998 ”Paintings”, Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, USA 1996 ”Dark Star”, The Kemper Museum, Kansas, USA 1995 Gagosian Gallery, New York, USA 1994 University Art Museum, Berkeley, USA 1993 Galerie Boulakia, Paris, France 1992 Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, New York, USA 1990 Galerie Boulakia, Paris, France Akira Ikeda Gallery, Nagoya, Japan Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, New York, USA 1989 Marilyn Butler Gallery, Los Angeles, USA Vrej Baghoomian, New York, USA 1986 Centre Culturel de La Rochelle, La Rochelle, France

Group exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation
2005 “Summertime“, Mario Mauroner, Wien, Austria 2003 “Black President”, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, USA 2002 “documenta 11”, documenta, Kassel, Germany ”Whitney Biennial“, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA 2001 ”The Short Century”, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany “The Short Century”, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany Gorney Bravin & Lee, New York, USA 1998 Fukui Fine Arts Museum, Fukui, Japan Kurashiki Art City Museum, Kurashiki, Japan Museum Atorion, Akita, Japan 1997 Setagaya Art Museum, Tokio, Japan Chiba Museum of Art, Japan 1995 Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, New York, USA “Un Altre Pais”, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Cabildo de Gran Canaria, Spain 1994 Museum of Contempory African Art, New York, USA 1993 “La Biennale di Venezia”, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy 1992 “Other Drums: Visionary Works“, Cavin Morris Gallery, New York, USA “Haessle, Ouattara, Ray Smith“, Navara Gallery, New York, USA 1991 “Syncretism: The Art of the XX Century”, The Alternative Museum, New York, USA “African Explores”, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, USA “African Explores”, Lyonnais d’Art Contemporain, Lyon, France “African Explores”, Tate Gallery, Liverpool, Great Britain 1988 Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, New York, USA 1986 Galerie Georges Lavrov, Paris, France 1985 Musée National des Arts Africains et Oceaniens, Paris, France


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)