Abu Bakarr Mansaray’s spectral drawings caught the attention of the art world shortly after he moved to Europe as a war refugee in 1998. They evoke a visceral response because of their intricate composition, intensity, and subject matter. Produced in 1997, the drawings are visual documents of Mansaray’s personal experience of the civil war in Sierra Leone, which lasted nearly twelve years, from 1991 to 2002. A self-taught artist, Mansaray also taught himself engineering principles as a teenager after moving from Tongo, his birthplace, to Freetown, the country’s capital, in 1987. This interest has largely shaped his drawings, often construed as dissected diagrams of arthropod- shaped predatory drones or futuristic machines. His drawings are executed with pencil, crayons, and ballpoint pens, and showcase not only his great attention to detail but also his fecund imagination. The drawings are either finished artworks or preparatory sketches for his equally phantasmal miniature sculptures, which he creates with wire. In spite of their diminutive size and humble material, the sculptures impose themselves upon the viewer and reflect Mansaray’s attempt to achieve a transparency of form.
The Massaka (1997), a corrupted form of the word massacre, emerges from a dark and deeply personal space. Here he presents the carnage that besieged Sierra Leone during the internecine crisis. The main element is the zoomorphic armored tank occupying the center of the picture surface. The contraption spits red fire and leaves a trail of human body parts. Its constituent parts are labeled or stamped with written commentaries that communicate human casualty and the unraveling of the postcolonial space. In his later work, Mansaray departs from translating his own experiences or using them as a visual trope. In his post-1990s work, Mansaray gradually began to depersonalize the memory of the Sierra Leone civil war in order to seek the universalism of human experience. His vocabulary of mechanized forms has become more sophisticated and complex after he turned his attention to a variety of issues, some of which relate to the broader impact of the military–industrial complex, and others to the growing dictatorship of technology in our lives.