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Frédéric Bruly Bouabré’s practice is encyclopedic, aspiring to the depiction of everything, a means of apprehending and communicating the way the world works. He makes thousands of postcard-sized drawings, graphic images bordered by upper-case texts that categorise and date them. They are exquisite, symbolic cartoons, drawn in
ballpoint and coloured pencils. As he explains: “I usually depict men and women. After all, the earth is humanity.” Also there are pictures of hunting traps, clouds, rocks, gold weights and kola nuts, very loaded from a West African point of view. More generally, they convey a need to know how we know the most familiar things – not just a question of communication, but how our communication determines our understanding.
By accumulation, Bouabré’s work acquires its strength and gravity. His various series involve hundreds and hundreds of pieces, drawings that are like diary entries, countless observations on everyday life. There is a modesty, of medium and subject matter, foiled by a philosophical ambition that is conveyed by the umbrella titles: Connaissance du monde (Knowledge of the World), Le Musee du Visage Africain (The Museum of African Faces), Alphabet and Vision.
In addition, Ikon presents a new series, entitled La Haute Diplomatie (High Diplomacy), comprising 193 colourful drawings that portray individuals who personify all the countries of the world. The ﬁgures, one per postcard, wear clothes that incorporate the colours and shapes of their national ﬂags. Each has a distinct demeanour, but they all extend their right hand, in a diplomatic gesture of friendship. The consistent format belies the humorous, poignant idiosyncrasies that make subtle political references. Bouabré extends notions of connectedness with an increased internationalism. Birmingham, one of the
most multi-cultural cities in the world, could not be more appropriate for this exhibition.
A book featuring La Haute Diplomatie, published by Ikon Shop, is available for a special exhibition price of £11.95, full price £14. Texts by André Magnin, Yaya Savané, Ettore Sottsass and Jonathan Watkins.