Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté is renowned for his bold, colourful, and intricately detailed large-scale textile installations which comment on his personal life and the complex history of traditional West African craftsmanship.Read More
Born in the northern Malian town of Diré, Konaté was raised in an intellectual household. A graduate of painting from the National Institute of Arts, Bamako (1972—1976), he lived in Cuba between 1978 and 1985 to further his art education at the Higher Institute of Plastic Arts in Havana, exposing him to a multidisciplinary approach to art, one that has stayed with him to this day.
Receiving international recognition over the past four decades Abdoulaye Konaté has established himself as a leading artist of his generation. He is also a committed educator in his role as Founding General Director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Multimédia Balla Fasseké Kouyaté in Bamako, the city where he still lives and works.
Adopting a unique process of assemblage, Konaté cuts-up, dyes, sews, and reassembles pieces of fabric (mostly cotton), then reconfigures them into large-scale, boldly coloured tapestries with incredibly detailed surfaces, creating arresting optical effects.
Working mostly with textile materials, dyes, and dyeing techniques indigenous to his native Mali, Konaté's installations form abstract visual tableaus which are at once explorations in colour and weaving cloth yet speak to more complicated global socio-political themes that resonate far beyond his local context.
In early works on paper rendered in acrylic, colourful motifs refer to graphic signs and cosmological symbols used by Malian societies, the most prominent of these being ciwara (or amulets)—a ritual object representing an antelope head, used by the Bambara ethnic group in Mali. The head of the beast, which typically forms part of a zoomorphic crest with elegant lines, evokes the graceful ripple of an antelopes form and is an important symbol used in masks worn to perform traditional dance and rituals of initiation.
Colour in Konaté's work isn't merely aesthetic and serves as a metaphor for themes as diverse as war, power struggles, religion, globalisation, ecological shifts, and the AIDS epidemic which he poignantly visualised in his 1995 work Lutte contre de HIV. This large textile work depicts a figure with an imposing red target at its centre, suggestive of being marked by illness, accompanied by a suitcase placed in front, containing three screenprints and a blanket referencing personal artefacts and ephemera related to the suffering brought on by the disease.
As the artist has previously said of his influences, 'I can say that in my art there are two well-defined lines of thought. On the one hand, there is the purely aesthetic side, influenced by the nature and cultural traditions of Mali, my country, and that determines the colours and the materials of my work. On the other hand, there is a more spiritual side, which stems from the desire to investigate and describe through my work the human suffering, which reflects itself on the relations between states, politics, the environment, society and the family. Addressing very urgent issues such as AIDS, fanatism and environmental threats, my works draw attention to the problems that plague the modern man and that are caused by a fundamental lack of tolerance in Africa as elsewhere in the world.'
Selected solo exhibitions include a retrospective at Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst, DK (2016) and Symphonie en couleur at Blain|Southern London, UK (2016).
Select group exhibitions include Pulling at Threads, Norval Foundation, SA (2018); Mobile Worlds or The Museum of our Transcultural Present, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, DE (2018); The Summer Show, Royal Academy of Arts (RA), London, UK (2017); L'Afrique en capitale, Musée Mohammed VI d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Rabat, MA (2017); Eva International biennale in Limerick, IE (2016); ART_TEXTILES, The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, UK (2015); and The Divine Comedy, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, DE (2014), SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia, US (2014—2015), and National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, US (2015). He also participated in the 13th Havana Biennial in 2019 and previously participated in Viva Arte Viva, the central exhibition in the 2017 edition of the Venice Biennale, curated by Christine Macel, chief curator of the Centre Pompidou Paris.
Konaté is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Officier de l'Ordre National du Mali (2009) as well as the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France (2002) and the Léopold Sédar Senghor Prize at the Dak'Art Biennale in Dakar (1996). His works are held in major major museum collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Centre Pompidou.
Jareh Das | Ocula | 2022