Abu Bakarr Mansaray was born in Sierra Leone nine years after it gained independence from the United Kingdom. In 1991, a decade-long brutal civil war broke out, which cost the lives of tens of thousands and brought about the collapse of the country’s economic, social and political infrastructure. In 1998, Mansaray managed to escape the warzone and lived in The Netherlands for several years. Today he lives in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital; the horrors of the war years continue to hover over his art like a reflection of post-trauma. In his drawings—of varying sizes—he combines images and texts from different worlds: UFOs, aliens, skeletons driving tanks, blood-spitting machine guns, geometrical calculations. This could have been the world of an adventurous youth, had the violent painted scenes not been drawn from reality. Thus the starting point is a horrific occurrence that indeed took place, yet the drawings are full of fantasy and imagination, and their points of reference, from an aspect of content and aesthetics, are the worlds of science fiction and technology. As such, the drawings are a typical example of the essence of Afro-futurism: the fantasy and imagination are not based on a past mythology, but connect with technology and futurology and are anchored in Africa’s chaotic reality. The human–animal hybrids common in mythical tales here metamorphose into terrifying connections between humans, animals and machines.
Mansaray is an autodidact who began constructing decorative objects and toys from wire and iron. Applying the engineering knowledge he acquired over the years, without formal education, he has built contraptions that produce fire and water, create motion and sound, distribute light, heat and coldness. Over time, his preparatory sketches have acquired their own status as works of arts, and their accompanying texts provide them with a conceptual and simultaneously obsessive dimension. Detailed geometrical calculations, diagrams and explanations fill every bit of space on the page—executed, like the drawings, in pencil, ballpoint pen and colored pencils.
Mansaray’s Afro-futurism seems like a projection of reality’s horrors onto another dimension of time and place. Reality is projected forwards, to a futuristic world. Not only is technology, the glory of the West’s ideas of progress and enlightenment, presented through its terrifying facet but it is also devoid of its rational and logical characteristic, on which it prides itself.
1970 Tongo, Sierra Leone
Freetown, Sierra Leone