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Hands Up

Hands Up
signed, inscribed and dated 'AMOAKO M BOAFO 2018 KING' (lower right)
oil on canvas
187 x 148.6 cm. (73 1⁄2 x 58 1⁄2 in.)
Painted in 2018
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

Hands Up, 2018, is a most prime example from the artist’s Black Diaspora series (ongoing) that takes friends, acquaintances, individuals that inspire him as its subjects. His powerful, concise style expresses the vibrancy of daily life with an easy familiarity, touching on topics such as community collaboration, social and political struggles, and the intimacy between like-minded friends.

Fusing a distinct method of depicting the Black experience with a style influenced by artists like Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Boafo seeks to investigate and celebrate what being Black means. His references to the art historical canon can be seen therefore as a challenge to the dearth of Black subjects throughout history. He claims, “There are some people who connect my paintings to Egon Schiele, for example… I was searching for a way to paint figurative portraits in a loose and free way. So I would go to museums or look at books, thinking about how people like Schiele got there. In that way art history had a big influence on how I paint” (A. Boafo, quoted in: S. Mizota, “In Amoako Boafo’s portraits, every brushstroke of every black face matters,” Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2019). In the same tact, artists like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Kehinde Wiley draw comparisons, as does his handling of monochromatic compositions refer however tangentially to the oeuvre of the late Barkley L. Hendricks.

Creating in conversation with these artists, Boafo proves himself a powerful voice in the new dialogue on painting, “with his striking and dynamic portraiture further ushering in the era of New Modernism”,… ”Boafo agrees that our voices need to be heard, and that we deserve to be seen not only in relation to our Blackness, but also as individuals. Sometimes, simply being Black can be seen as more or less than what it is; ideally, it just is. Some perceive it as a threat, others as a source of joy and pride.” (Destinee Ross-Sutton quoted in exh. cat., BLACK VOICES/BLACK MICROCOSM, CFHILL, Stockholm, 8 April - 9 May 2020)

Throughout his practice, Boafo centers Blackness in all its multitudes. In 2013, he co-organized WE DEY, a space in Vienna dedicated to amplifying the perspectives and experiences of Queer, Trans, Black and People of Colour through exhibitions, workshops, and talks. His critically received 2021 Dior collaboration, opened up a new dynamic in his work, and introduced his characters across a larger stage. Boafo’s latest efforts see the building of artist residency and permanent collection in Accra, designed by Sir David Adjaye, the first of its kind in his hometown. Boafo’s first museum solo exhibition Soul of Black Folks opens this October 20 - February 27, 2022 and will then travel to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. A fully illustrated first monograph surveying Amoako Boafo’s career to date is scheduled to be released by Roberts Projects in early 2022.


The present work titled after a statement or refrain of protective surrender, the magnificently rendered hands presented here serve as landscapes, abstractions of Blackness beyond the binary. Blackness here is coloured. These hands are linked to a kinship of suffering but underline the fabulous divinity of all Blackness that is ignored when a people are rendered in language as the absence of colour.

All of Boafo’s paintings are aesthetically shocking. Process is product, and his visual products all align with the artist’s principles of defining and including Blackness within a continually reformatted canon of ‘First World’ portraiture. Amoako re-presents Blackness as something inherently dynamic to witness. Black is always beautiful and Boafo assigns form as he projects the importance of tactile, digital (finger) painting in a digital (technological) time. His visual proclamations are literally flowing; a dance between the artist’s fingertips and the surface.

This 2018 work, Hands Up is an undeniable confluence of the artist’s eloquent voice and an all too familiar global gesture of Black accusation that here, by clever compositional phrasing, becomes an elegy to Black joy. The figure is ecstatic in their Blackness. It is selfevident that Hands Up represents a higher level of artistic competency and fluency than has appeared before. Hands Up is at once iconic and intimate. It is a painting about its time. It resonates something that has the real temporal resonance of suffering yet creates a visual tone of salvation, of evidence of spirit, of the unhindered omnipresence of ‘Blackness’ through music, and through the gestures of Black bodies around the globe. There is religion here: redemption and connection through a gesture of suffering recast as an act of human Black power.

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