Konaté (b.1953 Diré, Mali) lives and works in Bamako and was the Founding General Director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Multimédia Balla Fasseké Kouyaté in Bamako. He first studied painting at the Institut National des Arts in Bamako and then at the Instituto Superior des Arte, Havana, Cuba, where he lived for seven years before returning to Mali. In 2008, he was nominated for the Artes Mundi 3 prize, Cardiff. Awards include the prestigious Léopold Sédar Senghor Prize at the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar (1996), the Officier de l’Ordre National du Mali (2009), and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France (2002). Recent international group exhibitions including: On the Spiritual Matter of Art, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome (2019); Lend Me Your Dream, L’Artorium, Casablanca, touring (2019), Pulling at Threads, Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2018); Mobile Worlds, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (2018); The Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2017); and The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington (2015). Recent solo exhibitions include Hommage à Youssouf Tata Cissé et Germaine Dieterlen, Zeitz MOCAA, Norval (2021), Couleurs d’âme at Blain|Southern, New York (2019) and a retrospective at Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst, Ishøj (2016). Konaté participated in the 13th Havana Biennial and 3rd Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art, China (2019) and in Viva Arte Viva, Venice Biennale (2017).
Abdoulaye Konaté is renowned for his dexterous and collaborative use of woven and dyed cloths native to his country. By interweaving local aesthetics and cosmology with global geopolitics and social commentary, he creates powerfully multi-layered unions of different cultural systems. The large-scale, vertical tapestries on display are all from the past year and a half, hailing from Konaté’s iconic glossary of shape, colour, and texture connoting communication, representation, and commemoration. Key concepts behind his works include addressing timeless socio-political struggles, venerating craft as a tool of cultural storytelling, emphasising Malian humanist values, and establishing a rich colour language through resilient, playful variations on shade and shape. In these more recent works, however, the personal, aesthetic, and symbolic take precedence over the political, centring their focus on human nature and universal harmony rooted in a West African sensibility to find balance.
As viewers we can thereby decipher Konaté’s symbolic system of colours, codes, and colour-coding. Repetitive icons of triangles, squares, and lozenges often allude to West African iconography such as the ciwara (a ritual object signifying the crest of an antelope associated with agriculture) and amulets (adornments often added to Malian textiles to protect the wearer) – charging these works with the power of land and sun, human and nature, earth and ether. Magical formations whereby design can take on the divine. The recurring dotted feather conjures that of the guinea fowl (a traditional symbol alluding to a sacrifice in religious ceremonies, the enigmatic nature of humans, or vitality and energy due to its fervent, fertile nature) and thus imbues certain pieces with further layers of complex, culturally-nuanced allegorical meaning.
With regards to colours, Konaté’s symbolic vocabulary looks to a variety of origins: the Komo secret society, Pan-Africanism, cultural colourism, national flags, the spectrum between light and dark, and more. The predominant blues represent water, sources of life, and the indigo dye so central to West African aesthetics; a curtain of green alludes to nature and hope; pops of yellow reference the sun, a golden desert, and prosperity. The recurring red stands for fire or blood, thus connoting violence but also life, sometimes a sacrifice; baths of white represent light, the truth, air, peace, and justice; whereas borders of black hold within their depth mysteries about the origin of life, at once suggesting chaos, liberty, and death. These colourful textiles thus become landscapes of our hearts, minds, and souls – places where we can conjure our own senses of knowledge and emotional literacy. Konaté’s storytelling is at once syncretistic and utopian, yet ultimately abstract with endless possibility.