In December, during Art Basel Miami Beach, the brand-new Rubell Museum—a gargantuan temple of contemporary art founded by longtime collectors Mera and Don Rubell—had recently named the Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo as its inaugural artist-in-residence. The rising talent had garnered widespread interest for his rippling, large-scale portraits of African diasporic figures that, in his words, “represent, document, celebrate, and show new ways to approach Blackness.” He does so in part by using a beguilingly simple finger-painting technique that faintly echoes the evocative works of Egon Schiele. “He creates a background with a classical technique, using brushes, but then the actual body of the subject is all finger painted,” Mera Rubell told ARTnews when the residency was first announced. “It’s very mysterious the way in which he captures the most powerful human expressions with just his fingers moving on the canvas.”
Boafo counts the artist Kehinde Wiley among his collectors and biggest fans. In fact, Wiley was so moved after discovering Boafo on Instagram that he immediately convinced his Los Angeles gallery, Roberts Projects, to add him to its roster. A solo show, called “I See Me,” promptly ensued. Critics commended the palpable feelings of warmth, tenderness, and human connection captured within his portraits, which portrayed individuals from the surrounding countries of his native Ghana. Widely regarded as his breakthrough exhibition, “I See Me” established Boafo as an up-and-coming art-world force and catapulted him onto the radar of the world’s foremost collectors.
Likewise, Boafo’s paintings immediately resonated with Dior Homme artistic director Kim Jones, who had presented his pre-fall collection in a buzzy runway show across from the Rubell Museum during Art Basel. Jones’s tenure at the French luxury label has been notably marked by a series of ambitious blue-chip artist collaborations (Daniel Arsham, KAWS, and Hajime Sorayama among them) that have yielded some wildly imaginative and over-the-top takes on traditional menswear. But Jones, who spent his childhood traveling through Africa with his late hydro-geologist father, had long been wanting to collaborate with an African contemporary artist. “I grew up in Africa,” says Jones, who recalls Ghana being one of his father’s favorite countries. “African art is something that’s always been important to me.”
Enter Boafo—after an introduction by Mera, Jones made the journey to Accra, Ghana, to visit his studio. “Boafo’s work just spoke to me; I was immediately drawn to it. The intensity of his portraits, the power of movement, and the choice of colors in them—everything touches me in his work and the way he sees things. I could just see his work turning into things in front of my eyes,” Jones tells British Vogue, referring to Dior’s newly launched Spring/Summer 2021 collection.
Called “Portrait of an Artist,” the collection masterfully marries Boafo’s sensibilities with the elegant masculinity and sharp tailoring pioneered by Jones. Trompe l’oeil abounds, while neon pops nod to the vibrant backgrounds upon which Boafo paints his characters, one of whom stares longingly from a fur turtleneck. Another shirt is embroidered with glimmering ivy leaves (a Dior signature) that Jones spotted on one of Boafo’s paintings during his studio visit. Jones describes the creative process as an exchange in the truest sense: “In designing this collection, I wanted to share that passion and celebrate the power of his work, to help it become even better known.”
Since extravagant runway shows have been put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dior introduced “Portrait of an Artist” through a short film directed by Jackie Nickerson as part of Paris Fashion Week’s online programming. The documentary, available on YouTube, features insightful conversations with Boafo, who explains his journey to becoming an artist and demonstrates the magic of his distinctive finger-painting method. Interspersed throughout is footage of the collection modeled by all-Black cast, whose graceful movements effortlessly bring Boafo’s figures to life.
In an age when fashion labels are facing backlash for appropriating Black culture, Dior’s collaboration with Boafo feels authentic and handled with the utmost care. It also ventures far beyond the runway: Dior is backing an effort, spearheaded by Boafo, to create a studio space and artist-run gallery in Accra that will help foster the city’s rising generation of creative talent. Boafo, who describes his collaboration with Dior as a “mind-blowing” experience, has emerged with a fresh perspective: “In many ways, the fashion and art worlds are similar,” he says. “They convey genuine messages about being and self-worth, much of which aligns with why I create—to elevate individuals and to define oneself.”