While many Ivorian artists fled the violent civil strife that was sparked by November’s disputed presidential elections, one painter stayed in the country, determined to express his wartime experience.
Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, 27, a painter better know as Aboudia, lives and works in the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan, where weeks of a bloody conflict between forces loyal to former leader Laurent Gbagbo and supporters of President Alassane Ouattara have recently come to an end.
Aboudia graduated from the School of Applied Arts in Bingerville, east of Abidjan, in 2003. His vivid contemporary canvases have been exhibited in Guinea, the Netherlands, Sweden the Ivory Coast as well as online, most notably on the photo-sharing website Flickr.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.
New series on the children of Abobo train station
The civil war in pictures
"I could hear the bullets zipping through the air as I painted"
Aboudia is a contemporary artist from Abidjan.
I wouldn’t call myself a war painter, but when the fighting got really bad in Abidjan I felt compelled to convey what I saw in my paintings. My work was similar to that of a journalist writing an article: I was simply describing a situation, in order to create a record of my country’s recent history. If it can help people remember what happened these past months, that’s good, but above all I painted these works for myself.
While some artists chose to flee the civil war, I decided to stay and continue working despite the danger. I worked in an artist’s studio right next to the Golf Hotel [Ouattara’s headquarters during the post-electoral crisis], I could hear the bullets zipping through the air while I painted. When the shooting got too heavy, I hid in the cellar and I tried to imagine what was going on. As soon as things calmed down I would go back upstairs and paint everything I had in mind. Whenever I was able to go outside, I would paint everything I saw as soon as I returned. Some of my paintings were also inspired from footage I saw on the news or the Internet.
Most shops were closed for months during the crisis, so paint and other material was scarce. When I ran out of a certain colour, I would try to recreate it by mixing the little paint I had left. I also did a lot of scavenging for material for my paintings.
"My role is to observe and paint. If I can’t do that, then I’m lost"
This painting is the first in a series I made. It came at the very start of the unrest. Its title, “Election Poison”, meant that the loser should have accepted his defeat fairly. I don’t support any specific party, and I did my best to keep out of the conflict. Throughout the crisis, I went outdoors with a white band on my wrist to stress the point that I was an apolitical civilian. That’s why I didn’t paint any politician’s names on the canvases, because everyone has his share of responsibility in the conflict. My role is to observe and paint. If I can’t do that, then I’m lost.
I particularly like this painting because its colours are very joyful, despite the colours of the crisis it depicts. During the months of conflict, there were some positive moments, like when UN patrols came to ask us if we had enough food or whether we wanted to be evacuated. It was a heart-warming relief to most people to know that we weren’t abandoned, and I wanted to express that in my painting. In the background, you can see houses covered in bullet marks. It looks like they are crying.
Today I put away my war paint brushes, and I’m once again painting people’s small, everyday joys. I’ve started going back to see the children of Abobo station.”