Frédéric Bruly Bouabré

Article Bio Works Projects
crossroads:
colonialism, identity, writing
genre(subgenre):
Visual Arts (drawing)
region:
Africa, Western
country/territory:
Côte d'Ivoire
city:
Abidjan
created on:
May 31, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since August 21, 2008. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Article

The dead, now clouds

The world, a huge text. In his drawings, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, born in 1923 and now living in Abidjan on the Ivory Coast, continually interlaces the small with the great. In the pattern of orange-peel he can discern the earth and the heavens, and to him every round form is both a face and a globe of the earth.
Firstly there is the longing to communicate through more than a single system of signs: image and the written word, thing and thought. Nearly all Frédéric Bruly Bouabré´s works are made up of images and textual elements, which are related to and interpret each other. There are signs found and invented; there are secrets revealed and concealed; there are interpretations and riddles. There is always one level of narration which reveals a bit more, in a rather different way to the others. The gesture of the works, most of which are no bigger than postcards or even playing-cards, is always one of explanation and commentary. What can be seen can be read. But at the same time this continual deciphering of the world is also an enchantment and bestowal of meaning, for to the extent to which Frédéric Bruly Bouabré explains contents by means of ribbons of speech framing his drawings, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré plays with his role as a narrator.

The representational image and the explanatory text – this method of presentation is to be found in archaeology and ethnology, which are precisely those branches of learning with which the colonial powers made an image of Africa. Frédéric Bruly Bouabré narrates, as if the world were a gigantic museum in which all items are labelled with explanations. But the seemingly simple statement of a truth is often ironically broken, not only because Bouabré often leaves more than one meaning open for a sign but also because he savours the power of definition, since this is exactly what he takes back from the interpretative aloofness of colonial history.

His drawings are noted with coloured crayons and ball-point pens on small cardboard boxes. These are not so much the tools of an artist as of a pupil. Each drawing is indeed small but nearly always part of a much bigger series, which is sometimes continued over a period of several years. Hence the narrator in images leaves no doubt, despite the modesty of his means, about his encompassing gesture. The sun and the earth stand at the start of his cosmogony in the cycle ´Antique Art Africain´, whose very title gives back what the colonial chroniclers were reluctant to acknowledge in the conquered cultures – a historical consciousness with a traditional canon of forms.

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré was born in 1923 in Zéprégüuhé on the Ivory Coast. He belongs to the tribe of the Bété, the land´s third largest population, and was taught in a catholic school. He was fond of the French language and literature and worked for the navy and the railway in Senegal. He claims that his art goes back to a vision on the 11th March, 1948, when he saw seven suns orbiting round the known sun. Since then he has called himself a searcher who records his observations in books and drawings. His cosmogony is influenced as much by Christianity as by other myths and tends to harmonise its sources. For a long time his drawings were mainly for his tribe, since intellectuals in this state on the Ivory Coast took little notice of his art.

To Europe he came in 1989 to contribute to the exhibition ´Magiciens de la terre´ (Magicians of the Earth), in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Since then his drawings have extended an international and global concept of art, since his understanding of the world has drawn attention to a lack most recently expressed by the late romantics. He longs to decipher nature and the world of objects, as if they were a language full of meaning. At the end of the twentieth century, which saw with horror the extent to which nature had been destroyed and looked at progress only with great reservations, such a world-view was again desired. Even if folk were no longer able to share this view, they were relieved to find it at hand elsewhere.

Hence the art historian Olu Oguibe takes a hard line towards Bouabrés´ success in Europe: ´Bouabrés´ works are nowadays esteemed in the west for lying outside the parameters of conventional western criteria and for thus happening to awaken dubious perverted wishes and expectations. In their forms they withdraw from western criteria, they symbolise the longed-for distancing of Africa from the West, and they satisfy the longing for fantasies, fetishes and shamanism.´

Certainly Bouabrés´ works satisfy a longing for something no longer familiar, but at the same time they safeguard against being falsely numinous by means of their wit and the narrator´s slyness.

Many of the drawings are dated, even to the hour and minute. In an exhibition held in the House of World Cultures in Berlin in 1993, the oldest block of drawings went back to 1977. These were erotic drawings about, for instance, the mating of large animals and the blood-sucking sexuality of vampires. The forefathers of the penis cropped up as independent figures castrated at the tip; and there was mating between black men and white men, and between a shepherd and his sheep. With these fragments of a long history of descent and transformation between species, sexes and races, Boubré was also illustrating his own faith in a metamorphosis through which we are all interrelated.

A similar thought is behind the series ´La Decouverte des nos mortes devenues nuages´ (The Discovery of our Dead, now Clouds). On a blue background appears in each case a face, created out of the evaporated liquids of the earth, which in turn is saturated with the excrements of mankind and its mortal remains. These cloud-images in turn glide like a shadow behind another portrait-gallery – ´The great Figures´, which arose between 1983 and 1992 and lists ´high diplomats and famous personalities´. Montgomery Clift, Adolf Hitler ´in a sea of blood spilt by him´, Ronald Reagan, the Pope, Brezhnev, Canrdinal Ratzinger and diplomats from Britain and South America. In this very special blend, Bouabré reacts to the strange factor of being well known, which links stars, dictators and other politicians. Like Andy Warhol he gathers the icons of pop-culture, though his pictures differ from Warhol´s in showing amazement that single individuals can become so powerful.

Often Bouabré deciphers his lines, angles and triangles like in the European middle-ages, when heraldry was expressed through coats of arms and other signs. Humans, houses, villages, defensive walls, the globe of the earth, and schematisation and abstraction quickly serve to connect the part to the whole. In interpreting and defining his symbols he thus mixes western sources thoroughly with his own. His works are as much a part of tradition as an inventor of it. The context of interpretation is mobile, and in it is to be found the iconography of Christianity, African myths and Islamic narrative threads.

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré writes his tales in French. His own tribe has no written culture of its own. At ´Documenta 2002´ in Kassel was to be seen his ´Alphabet Bété´ (1991/92), like hieroglyphics. For the syllables of the Bété language, Bouabré has invented more than 400 elaborate signs. In introducing this alphabet, Bouabré writes: ´The alphabet is the indisputable pillar of human language. It is the hearth where the memory of man lives. It is a very effective recipe against forgetfulness, the feared factor of ignorance... Africa has been looked down on as being the ´continent without an alphabet´. The present-day instrument used by black Africa as its tool is European and in reality the "spearhead" of the coloniser.´ Thus his alphabet, Bété, has been made in recognition of the fact that nowadays a cultural identity depends on written tradition. At the same time the system looks back to a time in which a culture got on without a written language. In sign ´No. 379´ for the syllable ´zro´, a black man follows a white man with a gun. Memory and tradition, which Bété safeguards in his alphabet, is shown in the aesthetic transformation of traces of the present and of a violent history, as in the long derivation of the contents.
Author: Katrin Bettina Müller 

Bio

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré was born in 1923 in Zéprégüuhé on the Ivory Coast. He was a civil servant for the French colonial authorities then for the Republic of Ivory Coast. He now lives and works in Abidjan.

Works

Bird Watching

Exhibition / Installation,
2007
Group Exhibition. De Vishal - ruimte voor beeldende kunst, Haarlem, The Netherlands

Ikon Gallery

Exhibition / Installation,
2007
Solo Exhibition. Birmingham, UK

THE 1980s - A TOPOLOGY

Exhibition / Installation,
2006
Group Exhibition. Museu Serralves - Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto, Portugal

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré - Connaissance du monde - 1977-2005

Exhibition / Installation,
2006
Solo Exhibition. Mamco - Musée d´art moderne et contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland

100 % Africa

Exhibition / Installation,
2006
Group Exhibition. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

African Art Now : Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection

Exhibition / Installation,
2005
Group Exhibition. Museum of Fine Art Houston, Houston, USA

Arts of Africa

Exhibition / Installation,
2005
Group Exhibition. Grimaldi Forum, Monaco

Je m’installeaux abattoirs! - La collection d’art contemporain d’agnès b

Exhibition / Installation,
2004
Group Exhibition. Les Abattoirs, Toulouse, France

Les Afriques

Exhibition / Installation,
2004
Tri Postal, Lille, France

Africa Remix - Art contemporain d’un continent

Exhibition / Installation,
2004
Group Exhibition/Traveling Exhibition. Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany; Hayward Gallery, London, UK; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Correspondances Afriques

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
Iwalewa-Haus - Africa Centre of the University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany

Transferts

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium

L´Invention du Monde

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
Group Exhibition. Centre Pompidou, Paris, France

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
Solo Exhibition. Musée Champollion, Figeac, France

Dany Keller Galerie

Exhibition / Installation,
2002
Munich, Germany

Documenta 11

Exhibition / Installation,
2002
Group Exhibition. Kassel, Germany

The Short Century

Exhibition / Installation,
2001
Group Exhibition. Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany; House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany; PS1, New York, USA

Zeitwenden

Exhibition / Installation,
2000
Group Exhibition. Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany

100 Ans d´art contemporain

Exhibition / Installation,
2000
Group Exhibition. Palais des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles, Belgium

Dessins choisis

Exhibition / Installation,
2000
Group Exhibition. Alliance Èthio-Francaise, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Museum Ludwig

Exhibition / Installation,
1999
Köln, Germany Group Exhibition

Art Visionnaire

Exhibition / Installation,
1999
Group Exhibition. Halle Saint Pierre, Paris, France

Galerie du Jour FIAC 1999

Exhibition / Installation,
1999
Group Exhibition. Quai de Branly, Paris, France

Galerie Jule Kewenig

Exhibition / Installation,
1997
Köln, Germany Solo Exhibition

Johannesburg Biennial 1997

Exhibition / Installation,
1997
Group Exhibition. Johannesburg, South Africa

Ghwanju Biennial 1997

Exhibition / Installation,
1997
Group Exhibition. Ghwangju, South Korea

São Paulo Biennial 1996

Exhibition / Installation,
1996
Group Exhibition. São Paulo, Brazil

Sydney Biennial 1996

Exhibition / Installation,
1996
Group Exhibition. Sydney, Australia

Mondes - Frédéric Bruly Bouabré & Alighiero e Boetti

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
American Center, Paris, France

Mondes

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
Solo Exhibition with Alighiero e Boetti. American Center, Paris, France

Venice Biennial 1995

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
Group Exhibition. Venice, Italy

TransCulture

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
Group Exhibition. Palazzo Giustinian Loli (Fondazione Levi), Venice, Italy

Musées des arts d´Afrique et d´Océanie

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
Paris, France Group Exhibition

Big City

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
Group Exhibition. Serpentine Gallery, London, UK

Dialogue de Paix

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
Group Exhibition. Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Ginza Art Space

Exhibition / Installation,
1994
Shiseido Co. Ltd, Tokyo, Japan Solo Exhibition

Dia Center for the Arts

Exhibition / Installation,
1994
New York, USA Group Exhibition

Rencontres Africaines

Exhibition / Installation,
1994
Group Exhibition. Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

Identita :e rappresentazioni cartografiche

Exhibition / Installation,
1994
Group Exhibition. Museo Luigi Pirogni, Rome, Italy

Portikus

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Frankfurt

House of World Cultures

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Solo Exhibition. Berlin, Germany

Museum Ludwig

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Solo Exhibition. Aachen, Germany

Kunsthalle Bern

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Solo Exhibition. Bern, Switzerland

Tresor de voyage

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Group Exhibition. Venice Biennial, Italy

La grande Vérité, les astres africains

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Group Exhibition. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France

Grapholies

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Group Exhibition. Biennial Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Out of Africa

Exhibition / Installation,
1992
Group Exhibition. Saatchi Collection, London, UK

Résistance

Exhibition / Installation,
1992
The Watari-Um Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan

Découvertes

Exhibition / Installation,
1992
Group Exhibition. Grand Palais, Paris, France

Africa Hoy

Exhibition / Installation,
1991
Group Exhibition. Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas, Spain

Africa Now

Exhibition / Installation,
1991
Group Exhibition. Groningen Museum, Holland, and Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporana, Mexico

Magiciens de la Terre

Exhibition / Installation,
1989
Group Exhibition. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

Projects

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)

Artists of the World

(24 January 90 - 30 January 94)