Frieze New York: Sanou Oumar
May 2–May 5, 2019
Sanou Oumar’s intricate drawings reveal his interest in the dynamic forms and structures of architecture borne out of a real yet imaginative desire for home: roots, order, and infinite calm. As a young person growing up in Burkina Faso, Oumar would contemplate the elaborate simplicity of the modern bank building in Ouagadougou: “There was nothing missing. I could see all the lines in the building: rectangles, circles, triangles, everything included, each one following its own order.” His serialized, daily drawing practice echoes this pursuit of visual order, a process that helps him reframe and come to terms with the chaos of his past and present experience: the trauma and constraints of his childhood, and the physical and emotional displacement he faces as an asylum seeker in the U.S.
Oumar’s highly inventive works elevate quotidian materials—a pen, marker, colored pencil, or paper—while employing his personal possessions as stencils: his ID card, disposable spoons, washers, compass. The deftly made drawings immediately call to mind Indian mandalas, complex circular designs that represent imaginary palaces to contemplate during meditation. They also evoke the work of Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz who used abstract geometric language to explore complex belief systems, spirituality, and mystical restorative practices. Like Kunz, the Swiss artist and healer, whose diagrammatic drawings held within them the secret to health and well-being for her patients, Oumar draws to commune with other worlds and dimensions, the act of which is by turns metaphysical, liberating, and restorative. “The reason I am alive is because of them.”
In their tessellated shapes, colors, and patterns exist endless stories and influences: pink round flourishes represent his late mother’s soft presence; spiderweb lines evoke the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge; the use of color and repetition mimic the Vlisco textiles sold in Bobo’s outdoor markets, zellige techniques of Islamic tilework, the mud architecture and modernism of his beloved bank building. All these stories are imbued with a velocity and an urgency, as if passed down from generation to generation. Each drawing optically engages the viewer in a complex exploration of pattern, color, and form, promising the same gift they give their maker: an experience of order, relief, beauty, imagination, and transformation.