I wish there would more contemporary African art exhibitions in New York City. I wish one of them soon will feature Ouattara (pronounced wah-TARA) Watts. The two previous NYC-based exhibitions featuring him were: “Ouattara Watts: For Lily” (in 2007) and “Ouattara Watts: Works on Paper” (2005) both at Mike Weiss Gallery located on 24th St.
The world of Ouattara Watts typically contains sets of objects interacting with shapes, multi-lingual texts and symbols, graffiti-like elements, and textures forming visuals that stimulate the viewer with figurative and abstract content, and their interactions that create often a shrine-like viewing experiences. The content of artworks remains highly reflective of the international contemporary history, politics, pop culture, religions, and African artifacts forming together an exhilarating visual expression.
The content of Ouattara work is a direct reflection of his a multi-cultural identity. Ouattara was born in 1957 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and his childhood was shaped by traditional Ivorian events and rituals. Ouattara left Africa for Paris to pursue his career as an artist. In Paris, Ouattara met the late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), who not only bought his work in bulk, but also brought him to New York, where Ouattara now spends much of his time, while actively commuting between America, Europe and Africa. Those three environments are directly reflected in body of his work but his identity seems to stay free of any predominant linkage. On the contrary, Ouattara creates a vision that surpasses any geographical boundaries.
The political references of Ouattara’s work remain very strong and are fundamentally reflected by such work as “Nkrouma Berlin 1885,” that deals with year 1885 when European powers gathered to carve Africa up into the disruptive and arbitrary proprietary areas still in place today.
“My vision is not based only on a country or a continent; it’s beyond geography, or what is seen on a map. Even though I localize it to make it understood better, it is wider than that. It refers to the cosmos…”-Ouattara Watts
When compared to his friend Basquiat, Ouattara brings more sense of communal experience with stronger spiritual and universal elements shared across cultures and appears to be less “angry” and less “urban” than Basquiat in his visual language and style. There are also some distinct similarities between Basquiat and Ouattara which are concentrated in personal adaptations of various Afro-centric influences such as, but not limited to, the imaginative visual vocabulary of the Senufo artifacts.
The entire modern art, called contemporary art when created after 1945, is traditionally in the West a subject of progressive classification. The avant-garde – a late nineteenth-century French term describing any new art – can be defined as “destruction of the past”. In such a view of the modern art, the fauvism supersedes impressionism, cubism fauvism, futurism cubism, expressionism futurism, pop supersedes expressionism, and so on, each new one welcomed as a revolutionary innovation. The influences, regardless of terminology, are always global; for example, traditional African art had a strong influence on cubism. If that methodology is applied to Ouattara’s body of work, it may encompass expressionism and pop-art. In spite it is an academic blasphemy, the term inter-continental pop neo-expressionism comes to my mind here.
Ouattara remains increasingly applicable to our global experience that, through an increasing use of the Internet, is blurring our sense of locality and identity. Since the terminology is always secondary to the enjoyment, let’s just enjoy Ouattara’s World for all what it is: a visual fête of human expression that involves all of us.
Ouattara Watts’ website is a good starting point for exploring Ouattara’s World. Regretfully, his large artworks, fetching tens of thousands of US dollars, remain out of my reach.