“Beauty hides within ugliness”, says painter Obou, Ivorian visual artist
“Beauty hides within ugliness”. That’s how painter Obou defines the message conveyed by his various works of art. He calls his style BRAID ART, which he explains as follows: “It’s a word we use in our slang to describe ugliness. My style is where ugliness meets art. For me, it’s the best way to represent ugliness”.
My meeting with this young man was the result of a big coincidence: I was enchanted by the content of a collaborative arts magazine I had decided to purchase – a kind of large tome comprising works by young artists and arts students supported by a German NGO. And it just so happened that, in recent weeks, one of those students had already been trying to offer me one of his works of art, a portrait of me that he had done. I was therefore eager to meet him in our digital communication agency’s offices, and ever since then his painting of me hangs proudly on my office wall.
But who is this painter Obou? Born in Guiglo on 6 April, 1992, Gbais Obou Yves Fredy – to give him his full name – first attended class in the town of Man. Already back then his big sister noticed that he had the makings of a talented visual artist. “Ever since I was a child, my sister used to take me to the Man modern high school’s art workshop. That’s where my father taught”, he says. From then on, he happily followed this speciality.
Painter Obou then found himself in Abidjan in 2004 because of the ongoing socio-political crisis. For 4 years, he has been studying at the economic capital’s School of Fine Arts. “My training is going really well, although in general this school’s students train themselves. But I am still learning from teachers and professors”. He didn’t wait until he’d completed his studies to submit his works of art to other people outside his entourage. He gets his inspiration from what he has personally experienced, which he readily admits was traumatising at one stage of his life but is now joyous thanks to art and painting. As he says so well himself: “Obou du tunnel, il y a la recompense”, a play on words using his name and the expression ‘there is light (or in this case a reward) at the end of the tunnel’.
But beyond this day-to-day inspiration and his talent for visual art, he is guided by his two spiritual mentors: “I admire the work and commitment of Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin and, even more so, Ivorian artist Ernest Duku, because of his attention to detail and his patience”.
To take his artistic identity even further, Obou is always happy to organise artistic performances, like the one he did a few weeks ago in Abidjan’s residential neighbourhood of Cocody Danga. Faced with the desperate plight of a number of families that had been forced from the homes they had lived in for more than 20 years, Obou decided to raise public awareness by having a shower outdoors with nothing but a door in his hand. “I am involved in promoting art in my country insofar as I use my art to highlight certain problems that Ivorians face. I give a voice to these people who don’t have one. I’m committed to conveying messages through my creations and, to a certain extent, promoting my culture”, he says. Obou also says that art is capable of helping Ivorian and African youth in multiple ways: “Yes, insofar as a work of art gives these young people better cultural knowledge. The power of art lies in its ability to help people discover their own culture, history, origins and treasures, as well as talents insofar as a work of art provides these young people with greater cultural knowledge and allows them to educate themselves.
In general, art enables you to discover your culture, history, origins and treasures, as well as its talented people that gain their own inspiration from all this wealth”.
When young painter Obou offered me the portrait of me he had done in his own inimitable style, I immediately thought that he is destined to become a famous artist outside his home country, and major art collectors will fight over his works of art and artistic performances …
Obou is aware that his strength and uniqueness lie in his profoundly African heritage. For him, you cannot talk about African art without talking about the traditional masks and pagne cloths. “The reason Africa has been able to shed all these stereotypes is because of all its talented people”. Indeed he appreciates the surge in the popularity of African contemporary art around the world. However, he laments the total lack of interest most Africans have vis-à-vis art. “There is no real policy to promote new artistic talent, and it is visual artists who are paying the highest price”.
Notwithstanding this major detail, painter Obou is continuing to form ties within the artistic ecosystem.