Cheerful, vivid, and fresh are adjectives describing paintings by Ivorians Adams and Blanchard Magoe.
Arriving in Johannesburg in the late 1990s these dapper gents brought their skill and appreciation of the naïve painting tradition of Ivory Coast. This tradition is well established in the Gran Bassam area, near Abidjan, a legacy of French colonials who introduced it to locals. Blanchard’s painterly vision of these plump ladies is also underpinned by the genre of colon sculptural art in West Africa that depicts men with symbols of European culture such as wristwatches, torches, guns and motorcycles.
Once in gritty Johannesburg, the practicalities of daily life meant that Adams and Magoe plied their trade as sign writers as well as artists to make ends meet. For Blanchard, the impetus or familiarity with painting local products, through sign writing was assimilated into his work. His paintings took on a charming style reminiscent of 1950s advertising campaigns: women endorsing or demonstrating their joy at the convenience of commodities.
The subject of these works reflect a foreigner’s memories of idealized women from back home combined with the new ideas, local products and promise of appetizing cuisine in Southern Africa. They depict urban bejewelled matrons whose sunny smiles, patterned garments, and head-ties remained transfixed in time, unchanged throughout the artists’ career in this country. This is a nostalgic, romantic but also tongue in cheek glimpse into the private life of African women, fulfilling their domestic roles with flair in the home.
Adams and Blanchard marketed their work through craft distributors in South Africa and these small scale pieces quickly reached popular acclaim. They sold mainly to locals and these images portrayed the otherness that at that time, South Africans, after the end of apartheid, were unfamiliar with: the beautifully attired and groomed women of North Africa. At that particular time, prior to Zenophobia, these pictures appealed to many Joburg mothers’ aspirations for a positive, stable rainbow nation.