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 last three NYC-based exhibitions featuring him were: "Ouattara Watts: Vertigo" (2012), “Ouattara Watts: For Lily” (2007) and “Ouattara Watts: Works on Paper” (2005).
The world of Ouattara Watts often contains sets of objects. They are interacting with shapes, multi-lingual texts and symbols, graffiti-like elements and textured visuals. They stimulate the viewer with figurative and abstract content. Their interactions are creating a shrine-like viewing experiences. The content remains reflective of the international contemporary history, politics, pop culture and religions. Integrated African artifacts form together an exhilarating visual expression.
Ouattara was born in 1957 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Traditional Ivorian events and rituals influence his childhood. He leaves Africa for Paris to pursue his career as an artist. There Ouattara meets the late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Basquiat not only buys his work in bulk, but also brings him to New York. Ouattara spends there much of his time there while commuting between America, Europe and Africa. Those three environments affect the body of his work but his identity seems to stay free of any predominant linkage. He creates a vision that surpasses any geographical boundaries.
The political references of Ouattara’s work remain a strong influence. “Nkrouma Berlin 1885” work echoes gathering of the European powers. At that meeting they carved 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. Stronger spiritual and universal elements, shared across cultures, are obvious. He appears to be less “angry” and less “urban” than Basquiat in his visual language and style. There are also some distinct similarities between both. One would be an adaptation of the imaginative visual vocabulary of the Senufo artifacts.
The entire Western modern art collection, called contemporary art when created after 1945, is a subject of progressive classification. The avant-garde – a late nineteenth-century French term describing any new art – functions as artistic “destruction of the past”. In this view the fauvism supersedes impressionism, cubism fauvism, futurism cubism, expressionism futurism, pop supersedes expressionism, and so on. These, regardless of the rather local terminology, are always global in influence as in the case of traditional African art having a strong influence on cubism and on Picasso. When we attempt to apply this methodology to Ouattara’s body of work, it encompasses expressionism and pop-art. On a careful observer level, in spite it is an academic blasphemy, the term inter-cultural neo-expressionism comes to my mind.
Ouattara Watts remains increasingly applicable to our global experience. Our increasing use of the Internet is effectively blurring our sense of locality and identity. Since the academic terminology must be secondary to artistic enjoyment, let’s look at the Ouattara’s World as his visual fête of human expression to which he invites and welcomes us all.
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.
by Mark Bajkowski
Mark, born in Poland, is a Jack of all trades, master of none, who lives in New York since 1979. Mark has an unusually wide range of interests and is known to relate well to people half his age. Since his early childhood, he felt a curious relation to Africa, which unavoidably brings up the controversial subject of past-life memories.