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Beyond the Face: How Ivorian Artist Peintre Obou Uses Masks as a Creative Expression

Updated: May 8, 2023


AMBIVALENCE 01.04.23 @notagallery_art Berlin Schöneberg

Obou Gbais is an Ivorian artist, best known by his stage name Peintre Obou, who creates art that is heavily influenced by the political and military unrest in his country. His enthusiasm for the human condition and the horrors he has gone through as a result of intentionally caused tragedies have guided his career to this point. 


He even goes far as to emphasize slum life and the people who welcomed him in Abidjan's humble communes. He creates vivid colors on his subjects' bodies and noticeably distorts their faces with masks as he spins tales of war, trauma, pain, and persecution.


About Peintre Obou


Obou was born in 1992 in the west of Ivory Coast country. And have had a lifelong interest in the arts and culture.  He had always wanted to be an artist and a cultural spokesperson. He earned an artistic baccalaureate, allowing him to enroll in Abidjan's National School of Fine Arts in 2014. 


After a year of common core, he specialized in painting, giving him the opportunity to engage with teachers and artists who guide him on the proper road and challenge him to question himself and enhance his work. 


He earned a professional master's degree in painting with the theme "Life in the Slums" in 2018. Today, he tells his stories by reclaiming his culture's codes and values. He exudes Dan culture to the point of becoming its ambassador. 


“I wear the mask and I am the mask. I tell through these codes the story of my life, my city, I leave traces for future generations." - Peintre Obou


The Ivorian Art Scene


COLOR FAMILY by Peintre Obou

Peintre Obou was living in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire's capital, in 2004 when a protracted sociopolitical crisis engulfed the nation. He enrolled at Beaux Artsd'Abidjan, one of the top art colleges in the area, and spent the following four years developing his skills there.


Peintre Obou remembers his stay at Beaux-Arts of Abidjan as a life-changing experience. He was instructed to concentrate on technique and structure as well as delve deeper into his own roots to uncover his passions rather than just learning to develop a topic or tale in his work. He came upon the mask at this time, and it has since been shown frequently in his artwork.


According to Peintre Obou, the Ivorian art scene is divided into three groups: the old school, the new school, and the younger generation. Peintre Obou, feels himself to be part of the younger generation. The older generation is made up of well-established artists whose works may be seen in important collections all around the world. Their success motivates younger artists like him to work harder.


Peintre Obou believes Cote d'Ivoire's art sector is flourishing as more and more individuals develop an interest in it. Peintre Obou thinks that by lowering barriers to entry for art, more people will start to value and adore it.


Peintre Obou art



His art delves into issues like poverty, inequality, and the struggles faced by ordinary people. As Obou believes that art should be a mirror that reflects society, and this is the core message he tries to convey through his work.


In addition to exploring the human condition, the Ivorian artist is also fascinated by the concept of identity and how it is influenced by our experiences and surroundings. Elements of African culture and folklore are often incorporated into the artist's work, celebrating the richness and diversity of heritage. Nature is also a prominent theme, with the belief that we are all connected to nature in some way, and the artist aims to capture this connection through their art.


Overall, the artist's work is a personal expression of their experiences and observations of the world around them. Through their art, they hope to inspire others to think deeply about the issues that affect us all and to find beauty in unexpected places.


Favorite Project


The Abobo La Joie Project. Credit Peintre Obou Instagram.

Peintre’s favorite project was Abobo E Zo, a project that he proposed to a friend who worked at the Abobo city or town hall. She presented it to the mayor who was very fond of it. The project was presented around the time of the Abidjan Market for the Performing Arts or MASA. 


Obou had just come home from Berlin to attend and Minister Hamed Bakayoko had purchased one of his pieces at the LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery. The Minister had built an office in his home where he would display these works and had invited the artists of the works he had purchased over. He was the youngest artist the Minister had purchased work from. 


He wanted to create a bigger project that represented something more than small street art in Abidjan. He was contacted to execute the project and was excited to take on the challenge atop large surfaces. He had seen small street art scattered all over Abidjan and wanted to create something bigger that represented something more.


Abobo La Joie was a project created in collaboration with a friend and many students from Beaux-Arts. It was the first time artists were coming together to create such work in a commune of Abidjan.


The works included vibrant colors and words representative of the commune, such as phrases like Abobo, c'est la base, and Les kpata mousso d'Abobo. It has become a tourist spot and has changed the commune.


1 comment

1 Comment


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