On Thursday, August 26, 2021, Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, Blue Origin, made another launch into space, and aboard wasn’t the founder of Amazon but three paintings by Ghanaian visual artist, Amoako Boafo.
‘New Shephard’, Blue Origin’s reusable suborbital rocket, travelled into space with a specially commissioned triptych by Amoako Boafo painted on the top of the crew capsule on the main chute covers, making him the first artist from Africa to have created an artwork propelled into space.
The paintings by Amoako are the first in technology company Uplift Aerospace‘s new ‘Art x Space’ program, sending commissioned works of art into space. The project is a collaboration with Blue Origin and is curated by Jill Clark.
The paintings — Self Portrait with Pink Tulips (2021), Shormeh’s Gold Earrings (2021), and White and Gold Head Wrap (2021) — comprises Amoako’s “Suborbital Triptych”, including a portrait of himself and portraits of his mother and of his childhood friend, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, who is also an international artist.
“A self-portrait looking up to the skies best explains what this project means to me. I grew up knowing the sky was the limit and now I get to work on a project that goes beyond the sky as we know it. This signifies what is possible when creatives like myself are given the chance to not only break the glass ceiling but go above it,” Amoako Boafo said in a statement.
Referring to the portraits of his and Otis’s mother, Amoako said: “My mother has always been a backbone in shaping my dreams as an artist. In Ghana, where I grew up, it is said that a mother’s love comes from a place ‘out of this world’. These works are an ode to motherhood for there are not enough words that best describe a mother’s love and support.”
Amoako Boafo worked with a high-grade paint that can sustain the voyage into space. Recalling the experience and challenge of using it, he said: “The paint had an unusually strong smell, so I wore a nose mask the entire time during production. It was watery, so the panels had to be laid flat on the table to avoid unwanted marks. As it dried so fast, I had to work quickly to avoid it drying before the painting was done.”
Intrigued by the specific qualities of the paint, Amoako is keen to work with some of the colours in future artworks: “I decided to keep the gold, bronze and silver paints because I am curious to see how they react on different surfaces than the one I worked on.”
Uplift Aerospace has, however, pledged to make a charitable donation to Amoako Boafo’s selected organizations: Little Big Souls, which strives to reduce death and disability for preterm babies in Africa and Love’s Closet Foundation, which supports the healthcare and development of children in Ghana.
About Amoako Boafo
Amoako Boafo is a highly regarded voice in contemporary art of the African Diaspora, shaping perceptions of Black forms and dispositions in a global context.
He studied at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Accra, Ghana in 2007, before attending the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria for his MFA.
He was awarded the jury prize of Austria’s prestigious Walter Koschatzky Art-Award in 2017 and the STRABAG Art award International in 2019 both in Vienna, Austria.
Amoako counts a diverse range of references as his influences, including Egon Schiele, Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Henry Taylor, and Kehinde Wiley.
His portraits are notable for their bold colours and patterns, which celebrate his subjects, as a means to challenge representation that objectifies and dehumanizes Blackness. Able to capture critical subtleties and nuanced emotion in a manner that grabs and engages the viewer, it is however Amoako’s tenderness in how he renders his subjects that is the most striking quality of his work.
His powerful, concise style expresses the vibrancy of daily life with an easy familiarity, touching on topics such as community, social and political struggles, and the intimacy between like-minded friends.
He had his first solo show in the United States at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles in 2019, entitled I See Me. He was also the first artist-in-residence at the new Rubell Museum in Miami, FL, which launched in 2019, organized through Roberts Projects.
Amoako Boafo made headlines in 2020 when his The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019) fetched an eye-watering £675,000 at Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London. The price eclipsed the estimate of £30,000–£50,000 more than ten times over.
Widely collected and exhibited by public institutions and private collections, his works were recently acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Albertina Museum Vienna, and the Rubell Museum.
Featured among emerging leaders in the TIME 100 Next 2021, Boafo is also an ambassador for Dior as the first African to collaborate with the legendary fashion house, the summer 2021 menswear line breaking records for Dior Homme.
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