28 April 2011
Last updated at 08:14
Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo was deposed this month after forces loyal to the internationally recognised winner of November’s poll, Alassane Ouattara, swept into the main city of Abidjan. The 10-day battle trapped young Ivorian painter, Abdoulaye Diarrasouba, known as Aboudia, in his workshop.
While others fled, he painted 30 giant canvases of the battle. “I was painting and I heard gunfire,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme. “I put down the paint brush and ran into the cellar and afterwards I came back. We saw people chasing after each other, running past the gate and shooting at each other.”
UN peacekeeping forces were seen as the enemy by pro-Gbagbo forces and were frequently fired upon. As civilians became targets at informal roadblocks, the UN mission, known as Onuci, was criticised for not doing enough to protect Abidjan residents.
“I made an attempt to immortalise the history that was going on, so our children can see that at this moment in the history of Ivory Coast, here's what happened: They burned the UN vehicles, they asked Gbagbo to leave, peaceful marches were shelled,” he says.
“Right in front of us we could see the combat, and it scared me, and made it difficult to concentrate, but I needed to work, so I made an effort to carry on," he says. "Being an artist is like being a writer who writes with his pen and the keyboard of his computer. As a painting artist, I needed to write with my paintbrush."
Aboudia, 27, went to art school in Abidjan and his paintings have been displayed in public buildings and embassies. “My paintings are material – you can touch it and see it. With a video, it can be manipulated, but with a painting, as soon it's painted, it's finished. It's the truth.”
He says his artistic style is known as “nouchi”, the urban slang spoken by young people in Abidjan. “It's a children's style – like graffiti that you find in the street. It's like it's them passing a message through me.”
“All these kids who don't know what to do or where to go, who express themselves on the walls with charcoal, stones, paint, anything they have, I try and give them a voice on this canvas to tell the history of our country," he says.
“I create them not primarily so people hang them up in their homes but that we can have a museum or a special place for the paintings so that the future generations can see what happened – a bit like bearing testimony,” says the artist who often worked through the night to capture what he had seen.
“I don't create them for particular people, but first of all for me as an Ivorian who lived through this historic moment and then for the future generations.” The battle for Abidjan lasted from 30 March until Mr Gbagbo's capture on 11 April 2011. (Photos: Stefan Meisel; interview: BBC's John James)