A grant of £3,900 was awarded to the Whitworth Art Gallery towards the purchase of a series of drawings by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (1923-2014), consisting of 15 pictograms, using coloured pencils on card, each measuring 19.1 x 14.9 cm. Additional funding for this acquisition was given by the Friends of the Whitworth.
Bouabré’s artistic life began after he experienced, aged 25, a vision imploring him to spread and preserve his knowledge of his people, the Beté, whose homeland on the Ivory Coast had been occupied and then colonised by the French. He believed that at that moment he was given divine inspiration to begin his life’s work of creating a universal language through a series of pictograms, documenting African traditions, dress, patterns found in nature, and everything observable in the world around him. He believed that this project would provide the world with a common language that would bring peace to all nations.
He made drawings on small postcard sized pieces of card, acquired through his job working in government offices, and over his lifetime produced more than a thousand pictograms. He called them his Connaissance du Monde (Knowledge of the World) and they narrate his deepest concern for his people.
This series of 15 pictograms highlights alliances and commonalities between different nation states. The two-headed figures fuse the male and female body, resembling playing cards. Bouabré believed that only when both sexes live together as equals can humanity be truly united.
Although Bouabré was self-taught, his work will not be placed at the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection (MKOAC), housed at the Whitworth, but in the Whitworth main fine art collection, in line with the ongoing integration of all works in the MKOAC into the Gallery’s main collection. This signifies an important shift from conceiving Outsider Art as a separate category of art (into which artists are co-opted, largely on the advice of experts) – to a desire to expand the Whitworth collection in ways that reflect the full diversity of art created by a broad cross-section of society. In addition, the acquisition of this work is part of the commitment to broaden the geographical scope of the Whitworth collection to include works created beyond the Western canon, in Africa, Asia and South America.
Bouabre’s work was included in exhibitions in the UK, France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Morocco and Brazil, and is held in collections at the Pompidou Centre, Tate Collection, the Pigozzi Collection and others.