Dior Men alongside Amoako Boafo showcased a special collection celebrating African culture for the maison’s Summer 2021 range.
A special collaboration between artistic director Kim Jones and African-born artist Amoako Boafo, the Dior Men summer 2021 collection is a perfect amalgamation of the Western perception of Africa and Africa as the locals know it. Amoako Boafo, a painter born in Accra, Ghana; Jones, born in London with a childhood spent in Ethiopia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and various other places in Africa, including Boafo’s native Ghana. Jones first came across Boafo’s art in 2019 at the Rubell Museum in Miami where he was a resident artist.
An MFA graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Boafo is known for his evocative portraits and figurative art that hold the power to drown the viewer in the shimmering light of the black gaze, which we so rarely see in fashion or the art world. Each of his subjects celebrates black life, black skin shrouded in exuberant colours splayed across his canvases. The brushstrokes are thick and gestural, the contours of the body are almost softened into abstraction. The most well-known of his series, the Black Diaspora portraits serve as a means of celebration of his identity and Blackness.
Amoako Boafo emphasises, “The primary idea of my practice is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach blackness.” Much of his work is inspired by his upbringing, commenting on how males are raised to be aggressive and masculine, which he challenges in his works. Although the artist’s underlying messages are quite intense, there is a certain softness to the works as a whole, the poses are serene and the skin luminous.
Combining his tools with Boafo’s, Jones brings to life a wardrobe intended for the painter’s subjects. Pulling these beautiful characters off the museum’s and collectors’ walls where these works normally dwell
and bringing them to a space where African culture is at times referenced but rarely fully acknowledged is where Kim’s talent as a designer extends beyond just a garment and ascends to where all artists aspire to go – the heart of a story rarely told.
A cornucopia of stripes, florals and neons, the colours, cuts, proportions, paring and layering of the garments are all artfully manipulated by the black gaze of Boafa’s paintings, and with it comes an education, a story is told, and a painter and his subjects are celebrated in the context of a Dior Men’s collection that shows another chamber of Kim’s vast influences and his ability to harness the cultures he has experienced in his lifetime. More than just a collection, the Dior Men summer 2021 collection represents a symbiotic relationship between two artists who love Africa and its people, telling their stories in spaces these subjects rarely get to grace.
We speak to Amoako Boafo on his thoughts about the Dior Men Summer 2021 collaboration.
What made you say “yes” to Kim and Dior?
As an avid lover of Dior shoes, it was exciting when Dior (Kim) reached out for a collaboration. What made me say “yes” however was Kim’s passion about my work and about a collaboration with me.
What does Dior symbolise to you?
Please elaborate on your collaboration with Dior Men for summer 2021.
My experience collaborating on the Dior Men summer 2021 collection has been mind-blowing. In many ways, the fashion and art world are similar in their creative venture, in their craft; to convey genuine messages about being, and self-worth, much of which aligns with why I create artwork: to elevate individuals, and to define oneself. Fashion is a vehicle for art, and art can be a vehicle of empowerment for individuals. This has been a momentous creative opportunity for my career and for the future of my art.
Please tell us a bit about your background and how you became an artist.
I was a self-taught artist at first, having no formal connection to the art world as a child. My practice began by experimenting with drawing. My path was not an acceptable or profitable career for a Ghanaian, but I decided to go to art college nevertheless to pursue my passion for painting.
What role does identity play in your work?
The new works are fuelled by the underlying themes of autonomy, self-reflection, integrity and the perseverance of independence. Noting inspiration from great masters of classical portraiture, the new works emphasise the notion of freedom in a society which holds preconceived notions in relation to identity.
Who are the people portrayed in your painting?
I celebrate subjects bound to my world, inspired by powerful Black emerging designers, creatives, curators, artists and musicians. As for disclosure, some subjects remain anonymous, some revealed subtly through the title of the works, and some titles name the person I am representing.
Why do you choose to paint them surrounded by colours rather than concrete environments; can you tell us a little bit about your choices of colour and pattern?
My hope is to present my subjects in a vivid and momentous manner, which is why I elevate their environment with colors and intriguing patterns. My European-sourced wallpapers explore the possibilities of the transfer method, adorning textiles on my subjects and, in some, the foreground or background.
In certain paintings, your figures are reduced to partial figures while, in others, the background is a simple colour to draw the viewer’s focus to my subject. Can you tell us about your painting process?
I’ve explored many technical and figurative expressions of skin tone and movement, realising my process is best embellished when I paint with my fingers. The hands and faces of the buoyant figures in the works have been finger-painted, with the lack of instrument allowing me to create freely and to achieve an expressive skin tone.
I love that this seemingly simple motion can generate such an intense energy and unveil these sculptural figures. The lack of control I have in using my fingers is organic, and that shows through in the abstract forms that create the beautiful faces of my subjects. I am still using a new technique of photo transfer, which was first exhibited in 2019 at Art Basel Miami Beach in Mariane Ibrahim’s solo exhibition of my works, alongside my participation in the inaugural exhibition of the Rubell Museum.
What role does reflecting on Black identity play in your work?
My work is inspired by notions surrounding identity and questions the act of seeking self-validation and my approach to the representation and celebration of the Black identity.
In a time of multiple crises, what role do you think art can play?
More abstract voids surround the new portraits, creating an intimacy that reveals an abstract expressionist movement. I invite the viewers for critical reflection and self-celebration. My upcoming exhibition at the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery is a perfect example of this, as the exhibition pays homage to my present state of self- reflection and self-realisation during a time of crisis. The subjects of the paintings serve to challenge existing beliefs surrounding the Black identity, as Black people are not only constructing their own identities but celebrating them. This is how art can play a role in society. As for representing solidarity and individuality, I believe those traits have never been more crucial than now during a time of crisis, amidst the pandemic. In times of crisis, notions shift, and our role as artists must shift as well.