Fashion icon agnès b. is delighted to exhibit his “father”, the Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, in his Galerie Boutique, which opens this week. “He really is a great artist. I love it; he called me his daughter and signed [his pieces] “Your father, Bruly,” she said recently French journalist and art writer JAudith Benhamou-Huet.
Of course, the pair is not actually related – agnes b. was an early collector of the celebrated artist, who died in 2014. His work is on display at his flagship store in New York’s Soho, an area where fashion and contemporary art mingle as naturally as in his hip space at 50 Howard Street – as well as the Museum of Modern Art this month.
“Philosopher, human, poetic, generous, witty, full of love for people, that’s how I would describe what he did,” the designer told Benhamou-Huet.
Bouabré (1923 – 2014) focuses his art on preserving and sharing the knowledge he has gleaned about the world; in particular on the history and culture of the Bété people of his native Côte d’Ivoire. Her subjects ranged from cultural and religious traditions to women’s rights and current events, with primary motifs such as fruit and family as well as animals and death, all rendered vibrantly.
Perhaps most famously, Bouabré used his drawings to invent the first writing system for the Bété people, a 448-character syllabary which he hoped would become a universal language capable of expressing human sounds across languages and bringing people together across cultures. Each character in the language represents a syllable, rather than a letter or phrase; its unique alphabetical system has earned it the reputation of “new Champollion”, the French philologist who was the first to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The exhibition at Galerie Boutique, which runs from March 11 to May 15, 2022, features 65 brilliantly colored pen and pencil drawings on postcard-sized pieces of cardboard, which was the preferred medium. of the emblematic Ivorian artist. Pieces from the personal collection of agnès b. will also be exhibited, including works on paper created especially for her and for the artist’s famous 2001 series, Bété Mythology.
The designer, whose Galerie du Jour represented the artist in France since 2000, also lent a piece from his collection to the coincident exhibition on Bouabré at the Museum of Modern Art: 2007’s Tribute to the women of the worlda collection of 200 pen and colored pencil drawings in postcard format on cardboard.
Many of these pieces were drawn on hair product packaging that the artist found in his neighborhood of Abidjan, according to MoMA.
“It is an honor to be able to show pieces for Bruly there,” said the designer. Benhamou-Huet.
Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: The Untied World will take place at MoMA from March 13 to August 13, 2022, and is the museum’s first exhibition devoted entirely to an Ivorian artist. The in-depth retrospective will showcase over 1,000 individual works, highlighting two of his most famous series: Alphabet Bété (1990–91) and knowledge of the world (1987–2008).
The former documents his experience of transmitting a pictorial language, while the latter is a decades-long catalog of the artist’s worldly experiences, initially sparked by an eye-opening vision in March 1948 in which he found himself transformed into a new me: Cheik Nadro, or “the one who does not forget”.
“I don’t work from my imagination,” he said of the inspiration for his work, according to MoMA. “I observe, and what I see delights me.”