One day, while drawing in pencil and trying to create volume through shades of gray, a teacher looked at his work and said: you can achieve more depth if you understand color. The young artist Abdoulaye Konaté thus understood that by widening his palette, he could broaden his expression. He began incorporating textiles into installations in the 1990s, tearing the colored fabric into small fragments. This idea came to him by observing the traditional outfits of Senufo musicians. Other cultural influences from West Africa and elsewhere fuel his aesthetic research: music, dance and even the Korodouga, a brotherhood highly respected in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, who use satire to challenge power and societal behavior. Their costumes are strewn with amulets, fetishes or abandoned objects and plastics, making these “sacred jesters a sort of dumping ground for society”, explains the artist, who praises their total freedom of expression.
The colorful textile bands that cover his “canvases” have become a favored form of expression for Konaté, with some critics using the term “tapestries” or “patchworks” to describe his monumental compositions. But the artist insists on the fact that he did not really choose this vocabulary, rather working his palette like a painter. “The work process leads to discoveries or solutions,” he says simply. “I never thought I would quit acrylic or oil painting.” But this vibrant and moving material, common and familiar all over the world, especially in Mali, a large producer of bazin, a widely exported cotton fabric, has the advantage of creating secret correspondences between everyday reality and abstraction.
If these cosmogonic representations can be decoded, they encourage interpretation and call for mystery. Perhaps it would be fairer to compare them to “oracles”, for these universal landscapes reflect the unfathomable complexity of the world. A chaotic world, the one that this great figure of the contemporary African scene modestly tries to translate, without trying to assume a role other than that of a “citizen who observes his environment and tries to find a non-violent way of showing all that to human suffering, ”comments the artist. “I’m trying to extract the essentials to understand how we came to such a tragedy. The destruction of the cultural wealth of Syria, the desertification of the Sahel, immigration, wars of religion, barbarism, diseases… Its themes are difficult. And yet, “there is magic at work in Konaté’s kaleidoscopic pieces,” says gallery owner Primo Giovanni Marella, based between Milan and Lugano, who for 15 years has contributed to the artist’s international influence. His work, with enigmatic symbolism, spans the major biennials and is found in the largest collections and cultural institutions from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the Smithsonian in Washington and the Center Pompidou in Paris.
The power of these compositions, where traditional and contemporary layers of interpretation intersect, has not escaped the notice of Bruno Claessens, former director of the African art department of Christie’s, who inaugurated in October 2020 Duende Art Project, his new space. nomad in Antwerp, with an exhibition of African artists entitled “Fils”, referring to both “fibers” and “themes”.
After this past year, the paintings of Abdoulaye Konaté exude an even more notable delicacy. In the thickness of the abstract compositions, each of the thousands of pieces of fabric seems to find its perfect place, as if charged with an essential testimony to the harmony of a whole. And looking closely, beyond the political, social and environmental background that reveals the chaos, we see in the foreground a central figure: a man, balanced in the universe, stretching out his arms.
Konaté’s work is presented in a personal exhibition, The Folds of the Soul, at Galerie 38, Casablanca, until July 29. For his second exhibition at Galerie 38, Abdoulaye Konate presents a set of 11 monumental and unpublished works, all produced during the confinement, especially for this event exhibition.
Son, exhibition of DUENDE Art Projects, will be presented at the Zwartzusters monastery in Antwerp, from October 1 to November 14.