Shabu @ 90: A Journey of Life on Canvas and Cloth

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Baba and Mama Shabu

Given the diversity of works by the eminent African painter, Omar El Shabu, better known as “Baba Shabu”, the question for many is, “Where to begin?”

Well, let’s begin at 90. Utterly besides the fact that it “might” (repeat, “might”) be his age, the sagely artist continues to delve deep into centuries of African history and philosophy, emerging with nuggets of wisdom on canvas and cloth.

Yes, cloth — which might be a hit on at his upcoming exhibition in Monrovia, entitled: Shabu @ 90. Don’t miss it, just don’t.

These are not Liberian quilts, though that art form has earned its esteemed place on the world stage — in the personal collections of queens and congresswomen.  No, the ones by Shabu are tapestries — cloths that tell stories by their designs.

The entire exhibition comprises several groupings or “collections”, he calls them. The collections include: The Namuna Cloth; The 18 Gates; Erotique Noire; and Hidden Segments. Then there are stand-alone pieces, which he refers to as Individual Inspirations.

We’ll provide the exhibition date and venue details later. In the mean time, we’ve managed to provide a sneak-peak of one piece from each collection within the Shabu @ 90 exhibition. This exclusive access was provided, courtesy of Shabu, his bride and his brush.

1. TAPESTRIES – The Namuna Cloth Collection

A tapestry from the Namuna Cloth collection within the upcoming Shabu @ 90 Exhibition

Namuna Cloth is a respectful bow to ancient West African cloth traditions. For centuries cloth has been an integral part of the typical interior design in the West African home. Baba dug deep into his historical store of books, drawings, sketches — all his resources as he worked on this cloth. Historically, “Namuna Cloth” served as interior walls, doors, shades or blinds as well as the usual furniture coverings and decorative wall hangings. Cloth is portable and easily changed. It is easy to care for and so beautiful to view.

2. The 18 Gates Collection

“Beware of Leopard Tracks”, a piece from the “18 Gates” collection within the upcoming Shabu @ 90 Exhibition

The 18 Gates is an experience. We began this experience in 2002 traveling from Gbanga to Bobo Dioulasso when the sudden outbreak of war in Cote d’Ivoire forced us to take a goat path through the Fouta Djallon, the Bandiagara, and finally ending up in Tcheriba, Burkina Faso in 2007. These paintings represent that journey through the gates of transformation.

3. Erotique Noire Collection

“Garden of the Honey Bird”, a piece from the “Erotique Noire” collection within the upcoming Shabu @ 90 Exhibition

Baba speaks of finding “a freedom of joy in working… where colors and shapes… are touching, nudging each other… even in sexual enjoyment”. And this is it! He is speaking of the rhythm he felt while painting this small, but fascinating collection.

4. Hidden Segments Collection (Motifs from Hidden Segments in a Circle)

“Segments Inside the Circle”, a piece from the “Hidden Segments” collection within the upcoming Shabu @ 90 Exhibition

This is Baba allowing his draftsman discipline to freely explore the mysteries of the circle.

5. Individual Inspirations

A piece from the “Individual Inspirations” collection within the upcoming Shabu @ 90 Exhibition

Each of these pieces had its own individual source of inspiration and stands on its own outside a collection.

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