ARTIST IN WAR
Untitled (Diptych), 2011 . Jack Bell Gallery
The chaos and tragedy that war brings always leaves scars in the hearts and minds of victims and bystanders. This was the case after the crisis looming in Ivory Coast for over a decade broke into their second civil war. In 2011, the president at the time, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step out of office after disputing the results of their presidential election which he lost. This led to conflict between his military and the allies of his opposition, Alassane Outtara. The country was hit with violence and brutality with at least three thousand people losing their lives.
Perhaps if you were an artist in this situation, painting would be the last thing on your mind; if on your mind at all. This, however, was exactly what an Ivorian artist did. Amidst the turmoil, Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba hid in a studio right next to the headquarters of Ouatarra where he painted. Although he initially did not set out to create paintings about the war, the chaos around him permeated his work until he finally decided to paint his impression of the events. Describing the experience, Aboudia said, 'I could hear the bullets zipping through the air while I painted. When the shooting got too heavy, I hid in the cellar and I tried to imagine what was going on. As soon as things calmed down I would go back upstairs and paint everything I had in mind. Whenever I was able to go outside, I would paint everything I saw as soon as I returned. Some of my paintings were also inspired from footage I saw on the news or the Internet.'
This brings to effect the social role of artists as chroniclers of time. According to Aboudia, his work was similar to that of a journalist writing an article: he was simply describing a situation, in order to create a record of his country's recent history.
One may presume the reason for such diversity in personalities and lives of artists is to serve this purpose. They are supposed to be witnesses stationed at various points in life creating respresentations of what they see and feel. One can look at a painting from the 19th century and figure out the people of that time held dear as well as the challenges they faced. This documentation also makes it easier to see how much art has evolved over time. Rules in art that old artists regarded as commandments have gradually changed into newer ones that suit our time and these can be seen by comparison of works from various periods of time.
Another important thing Aboudia's work does is to make a subject as nerve-wretching as war easier to look at and discuss. We are familiar with the overwhelming horror that overcomes us when we look at grotesque images of war. Aboudia's paintings are like glasses which tone down the harsh rays of war yet still masterfully retaining the essence and gravity of the problem.
As you can imagine, art supply shops staying open during the war was not a priority and so he was bound to run out of certain colours and supplies. Whenever he did run out of a certain colour, Aboudia tried to recreate it by mixing other colours. He also used cardboards, paper, pieces of newspaper and anything that was available to create his work.
Before the war, Aboudia was already making his work reflect the things happening around him. Most of his work centered around the lives and plight of street children. These children were not only the subjects of his work; they were also his inspiration. During this time, he noticed how these children use art to express their dreams and emotions on neighbourhood walls. Children, not yet fully limited by the realities of life, live a thousand other lives through what they create. Aboudia saw the freedom art gave them as they drew houses, classrooms, families- all the things they wish they had. A child draws a car and is deeply elated because although he actually does not own one, this wall car is his. He may even go a step further to drive this charcoal car in his mind.
Daloa 29, 2011. Acrylic & mixed media on canvas
Portraits des Nouchis, 2019. Acrylic, collage & oil pastel on paper
La lectrice, 2018 .Acrylic & oil pastels on canvas
He is completely oblivious of the rules of art and so creates the most honest form of art- one that he finds satisfying. Without external interruptions, he cares very little about how straight his lines are, whether or not the colours used complement one another or whether he has carefully utilized perspective. These things that eventually shape and demarcate the boundaries of imagination of an older artist are foreign to children. The artistic liberties of these children greatly fascinated Aboudia. More importantly, he saw these drawings as a cry for help and so decided use his craft to bring awareness to these children. Aboudia decided to portray their drawings on canvas and draw people's attention to them in exhibition halls. Of course, being able to correctly convey the message of these children in its entirety requires that the artist understands them well enough. Aboudia felt great connection with these children as his decision to become an artist was not encouraged by his family. He subsequently left home and lived alone.
This explains why although Aboudia can draw exact shapes and accurate portraits, he prefers to incorporate a naive child-like style into his work. These paintings often look like a drawing a child would make to describe a nightmare. With crude brushstrokes, loose lines, incomplete shapes and his style of colouring, he often depicts street scenes with ghost-like figures. Although not immediately aesthetically pleasing, the figures in his work leave room for wonder. You see some of these ghoulish figures and wonder what story the child was trying to tell. Aboudia's choice of colour also augments this effect with dark figures on brighter backgrounds. The outlines of which are often made by brightly coloured scribbles. His work also merges graffiti, African and Western art. To him, the imperfection of his paintings is the very essence as life itself, especially that of these children, is not perfect. During the war, his gloomy paintings showed armed soldiers, skulls and conveyed the tension present at the time. Aside the content of his work, the canvases on which he creates are large enough to draw your attention.
Garba , 2018. Acrylic & oil pastels on canvas
Untitled, 2017. Acrylic & oil pastel on canvas
Although known mostly for his paintings during the war, Aboudia refuses to be known as the 'war artist'. He describes himself as an ambassador and 'megaphone' for children living on the streets. Aboudia continues to create paintings around this subject. In his words, 'Our vision of the world is positive: of a world without war, without children orphaned by war, without children mistreated, a world for children who are happy, joyful, educated and in good health.'
Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba