How the Words of Ivorian Poet Tanella Boni Resonate with Artist Aboudia’s Impassioned Works

The Artnet Auctions team explains how the poet's words relate to imagery in Aboudia’s work.

Aboudia, Untitled (2018). Courtesy the artist and Jack Bell Gallery, London.

Aboudia is one of the most prominent artists in the Contemporary African Art scene. The Côte d’Ivoire native is best known for his depictions of children, which reflect ongoing tensions in his home country. Ahead of our Africa Present sale, going live on Artnet Auctions on August 31, the Artnet Auctions team explores Aboudia’s style in the context of a poem by the award-winning contemporary Ivorian poet, Tanella Boni.

A translation of poet Tanella Boni’s “Land of Hope,” published in 2018, describes how images of the breaking dawn can linguistically illustrate the Ivorian political conflict that has so deeply influenced the artist Aboudia’s practice. The children depicted so frequently in Aboudia’ paintings echo the collective trauma that Boni lucidly communicates in her poem. 

When Boni writes about an “hour that opens a path to the convulsing dawn,” where “competing newspapers attire themselves in blue and red,” Aboudia’s backgrounds come to mind. Aboudia pastes onto his canvas sheets clipped from magazines and information-based daily publications and picturing real bodies and real headlines that declare the complexities of a country in turmoil. Onto these, Aboudia applies a reflective gloss. The artist’s work represents Abidjan as a city in limbo after the 2010 election—when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede to Alassane Ouattara.  Aboudia’s characters appear to convulse above this background of tacked, and fossilized magazine clipping, in a kind of violence. 

Aboudia, Portraits des Nouchis (2019). Courtesy the artist and Jack Bell Gallery, London.

While reading Boni’s words that broadly explain this transient cultural moment, the artist’s oil stick seems to hover, and flutter: “naked-winged swallow / your feathers wait so long / for buoyant winds from the open sea / they will borrow the ribs / of the aurora / and rise to the roof of the world.” Aboudia creates courageous children in spaces of flux that might be pictorial elegies, but simultaneously circulate the energies of a collective urban experience, turning in actual time at wing-propelled speeds.    

Aboudia’s empathy for the internal pains, desires, and euphorias of this burgeoning youth is resonant beside Boni’s verses on dawn promoting a step towards unity “born on the rainbow’s clouds / free between sea and the sun on the four winds.” Aboudia’s sense of formal freedom is one of distinct sequencing, amidst a bright and multicolored palette. Groups of heads superimposed in Aboudia’s Nouchy City series, for example, take on phosphorescent reds, teals that glow like molten television static, and patches of radioactive green, all unmixed to circumscribe visual and philosophical vocabularies. 

The market for works by Aboudia is exploding, and demand for his work has skyrocketed in recent years, in part due to his ability to capture fleeting lives in moments of turmoil and limbo. Artnet Auctions is accepting consignments of works by Aboudia for our upcoming Africa Present sale, which includes works by some of the most celebrated artists from across the continent, such as Ablade Glover, Patrick Bongoy, Virginia Chihota, and more.

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