Mali’s rich and culturally diverse society has heavily influenced the work of Bamako-based artist Abdoulaye Konaté. His effervescent portrayal of environmental and global socio-political issues is unrivalled, especially in his textile installations. Konaté’s introduction to the arts was at the Institut National des Arts in Bamako, where he studied painting, and then further, at the Instituto Superior des Arte, in Havana, Cuba. Upon returning to Mali in 1985, Konaté began to make the transition from working in paint to working in textile, and during the 1990s from figurative to abstract.
To Konaté, there is no great difference between painting and textiles, providing that a succinct and potent message is being conveyed. The textile medium which he uses to express himself is achieved by employing the use of locally-sourced and woven bio cotton, which is then dyed. Traditionally woven by men but spun and dyed by women in his local community, these colourful cloths are customarily used in ceremony and play an important role in the identity politics of the region and the diaspora. Although there is a historical division in how the textiles are made, Konaté’s final work intends to bring everyone together regardless of gender, race or religion.
Using locally made traditional Malian fabrics, Konaté manages to create works that act as political, historical, socioeconomic and ecological commentaries whilst also serving as celebrations of traditional Malian craftsmanship. Konaté’s mastery lies in his ability to confront weighty themes head-on, producing works that are at once deeply thoughtful and beautifully tranquil.
According to the artist, works such as Composition Arkilla kerka No 6A allow him to experiment in a more abstract realm of production and also allow the viewer to experience the works in a unique and personal manner. Composition Arkilla kerka No 6A forms a part of the artist’s recent exploration of colour and composition. The purpose of Konaté’s more recent work lies ‘in the pure rejoicing of colour, a program of jubilation and contemplation’ (Koyo Kouoh, Useful Dreams, p.12). Inspired by the garb of the Senufo and Koulikoro people, many of Konaté’s works feature strips of fabric, which have been cut and then stitched together on the floor of the artist’s studio. Konaté counterbalances the changes in vibrant hue with the consistency of texture, allowing each panel of strips to be appreciated in its own right whilst still being read in harmony with the greater work.
As the founding Director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Multimédia Balla Fasséké Kouyaté in Bamako, Konaté is dedicated to the education of younger generations. The artist has been exhibited at prominent locations around the world such as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He is the recipient of several prominent awards and accolades, including the prestigious Léopold Sédar Senghor Prize at the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar (1996). Major group shows include Africa Remix, whose international tour included the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Hayward Gallery, London (2004-2007) and Documenta 12 (2007), Kassel and The Divine Comedy, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists at the Frankfurt Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014), SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah Georgia (2014-2015) and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. (2015), amongst many others.