Artnet
Shop the Show: Why Popular Ivorian Artist Yéanzi Started ‘Painting’ With Plastic

Sought-after Ivorian artist Yéanzi's first European solo exhibition is currently on view at Galerie Melbye-Konan in Hamburg.

Every month, hundreds of galleries showcase new exhibitions on the Artnet Gallery Network—and every week, we shine a spotlight on the exhibitions we think you should see. Check out what we have in store, and inquire more with one simple click. What You Need to Know: Over the past decade, Lanin Saint-Étienne Yéanzi—known simply as Yéanzi—has established himself as one of the Ivory Coast’s defining contemporary artists. Beginning his career as a traditional portrait artist, over the years Yéanzi has transitioned to creating anonymous, colorful, and large-scale images of anonymous men, women, and children. These works are made through a signature process of melting recycled plastic and dripping it onto paper. Informed by the legacy of colonialism and the devastation of two Ivorian Civil Wars in his lifetime, his portraits are resolutely joyful.

“My work is deeply philosophical, but it is also anthropological and social,” the artist has said. His exhibition “ID–Illusions Identitaires” on view at Galerie Melbye-Konan in Hamburg brings together his most recent works for his first solo exhibition in Germany.

Why We Like It: Formally eye-catching, Yéanzi’s impressively controlled works are almost pointillist in effect with human bodies and faces emerging from drips of plastic. The artist adopted the technique in 2013, following a ban on plastic bags adopted in the country that year. The very presence of the bags alluded to a long history of colonization and the artist sought to repurpose the material into a new context.

According to the artist: “My task as an artist is to be a mirror for society, representing the attitudes, the habits and the shortcomings of this society. I am a kind of repository of culture and collective memory, of the collective conscience. As an artist, I am more receptive to the deeper issues and don’t stop at the superficial ones. Of course, there is poverty everywhere in the world, and environmental disaster is omnipresent, but for me—who has the opportunity to come into contact with different cultures, mentalities, and ways of life—one of the great problematics of our human existence is the question of integrity, memory, and identity,” said the artist about the primary concerns of his work.

Browse works by the artist below.