Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez of Cuba was the first man of African descent to enter space in 1980. Fast forward 41 years later, another great achievement of the African diaspora was realised.
Ghanaian and award-winning artist, Amoako Boafo’s three paintings of a rocket’s exterior panels launched into space. The space vessel, New Shepherd, is owned by Jeff Bezos’ private aerospace manufacturer, Blue Origin.
The rocket capsule was launched in West Texas, United States, on August 26. The rocket capsule and rocket separated in space, stayed for 10 minutes, and eventually returned to Earth. This follows an earlier, successful rocket launch trip by Blue Origin on July 20. Jeff Bezos and three other guests were on board the rocket.
Amoako Boaofo and one of his portraits, Shormeh's Gold Earrings
View of the New Shepherd rocket's exterior panels
Blue Origin's reusable suborbital rocket, New Shepherd
Melange of art and space
Uplift Aerospace’s Suborbital Triptych series and the Art x Space programme is curated by Magnet Art Group and its founder Jill Clark. It commissions today’s top artists to experiment in the developing field of space exploration.
One of these artists is Boafo, who is a forerunner of African contemporary art. He was chosen to create the inaugural Suborbital Triptych initiative. Boafo’s artwork, Baba Diop, fetched US$1.14 million dollars in Christie’s February 2020 auction sale in Hong Kong. His signature portraits, uses his fingers as the creative medium, celebrating people of the African diaspora. He vibrantly accentuates their gazes, poses and dresses.
Boafo’s artwork, Baba Diop, fetched US$1.14 million dollars in February 2020
The impact of Boafo’s art on Earth is also shared in space. Uplift wants to expand the marriage of art and space, attracting collectors, space enthusiasts and culture lovers alike.
“The profound strength of Amoako’s portraits for the first Suborbital Triptych will bring another dimension to the power that propels the New Shepard rocket,” explained Josh Hanes, CEO of Uplift Aerospace.
Race to Space – Trend
This initiative is one of a growing number of key art-world personalities making their ways into the galaxy. Japanese mega-collector, Yusaku Maezawa, plans to take a group of six to eight artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket in 2023. Maezawa is best known for purchasing key artworks, namely Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) for a record-breaking US$110.5 million in 2017.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1982)
The paintings called Self Portrait with Pink Tulips (2021), Shormeh’s Gold Earrings (2021) and White and Gold Head Wrap (2021) were part of Boafo’s Suborbital Triptych. The first painting was a self-portrait, the second one depicted Boafo's mother and the final third artwork illustrated his childhood friend, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe. The paintings decorated the rocket ship’s three parachute panels.
Boafo's Self Portrait with Pink Tulips (2021)
Using his mother as the main theme, Boafo painted Shormeh's Gold Earrings (2021)
White and Gold Head Wrap (2021)
Boafo undertook a mammoth task during the painting process of the exterior panels.
“The painting had an unusually strong smell, so I wore a nose mask the entire time during production. It was watery, so that panels had to be laid flat on the table to avoid unwanted marks. As it dried so fast, I had to work quickly to avoid it drying before the painting was done,” said Boafo.
Boafo during his creative process
Boafo’s portrait paintings highlight African people as the central figure.
More importantly still, since the height of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) social movement in the United States, it puts artists of African and other ethnic minorities origins into particular focus in auctions and exhibitions.
Bezos bought Afro-American artist, Kerry James Marshall’s Vignette 19 (2014) for $18.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2019.
Kerry James Marshall’s Vignette 19 (2014)