The work of the Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré had a single objective: to record and transmit information about the known universe. Devoting his life to a quest for knowledge, Bouabré captured and codified subjects from a range of sources, including cultural traditions, folklore, religious and spiritual belief systems, philosophy, and popular culture. “I do not work from my imagination," he once said. “I observe, and what I see delights me.”
The first survey of Bouabré’s work, and the first exhibition at MoMA devoted to an Ivorian artist, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound spans the artist’s immense production from the 1970s until his death in 2014. A highlight of the exhibition is the Alphabet Bété—Bouabré’s invention of the first writing system for the Bété people, an ethnic group in present-day Côte d’Ivoire to which the artist belonged. Also on view are hundreds of postcard-size illustrations that he drew on cardboard packages of hair products he salvaged from his neighborhood in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital. Tracing the arc of Bouabré’s inventiveness—from the creation of his first writings and drawings focused on the the culture of the Bété, to scenes from everyday life exploring broader themes of democracy, women’s rights, and current affairs—the exhibition celebrates his commitment to collecting, preserving, and sharing knowledge as a way of understanding the world around us.