with Ekow Nimako
Through vast environments constructed with hundreds of thousands of black LEGO, Ghanaian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako envisions an Afrofuturistic landscape brimming with strength, power, and liberation. Sprawling metropolises nest small buildings, regal towers, and fantastical details like the unhinged jaw of an enormous snake in their midst, structuring the architectural realms around legacies of myth and optimism.
Nimako’s current project, Building Black Civilizations: Journey of 2000 Ships, encapsulates this Afrofuturistic vision and invokes the mysterious story of Mansa Abu Bakr II, Mali’s ruler who’s said to have sailed from the coast of Africa in the 14th Century and never returned. The Atlantic voyage is one possible example of pre-Columbian contact and the founding narrative behind the artist’s latest sculptures.
Part of the ongoing Building Black series, this new collection comprises upwards of 500,000 sleek, black LEGO built into speculative cityscapes and figures. Nimako, who is currently based in Toronto, collaborated with studio assistants Janeesa Lewis-Nimako, Karen Osagie, and Keisha Agyemang to construct the utopian works, which are on view now at Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Each topography requires more than 600 hours of build time and contains an Adinkra, a symbol traditionally representing an aphoristic concept. Nimako shares that the emblems “are meant to connect the successive medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai across the centuries to the present, while providing a proverbial and moral centre for each sculptural narrative.”
Visit Dunlop Art Gallery before January 10, 2023, to see the incredible detail of Journey of 2000 Ships up close, and find more from Nimako on Instagram.
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Hundreds of thousands of sleek, black LEGO structure the utopic universes by Toronto-based artist Ekow Nimako. Ranging from life-sized figurative sculptures with an eccentric twist to sprawling landscapes mimicking dense metropolises, Nimako’s artworks are rooted in the visionary realm of Afrofuturism, which “explores the intersection of technology and race to visualize a powerful future for the African diaspora” through a hearty dose of hope and strength.
His ongoing series, Building Black, is an expansive collection that encompasses fantastical masks inspired by West African tradition and mythological characters that draw on folklore and proverbs. Another facet includes a broad, architectural sculpture that expands 30-square-feet. The 2019 work is titled “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE,” a reference to the capital city of the ancient Ghana Empire that’s thought to have contained a mosque, a central square, and various circuit walls.
Running through each of these artworks is a fluid understanding of time and space that blurs the distinction between generations, locations, and histories in order to imagine a new reality. “We are all living proof of our ancestors, all their joy, love, knowledge, and pain. They live in our DNA,” the Ghanaian-Canadian artist says. “Aesthetically, I enjoy taking elements from bygone eras and creating futuristic landscapes, particularly of African utopias to imagine a liberated existence for us all.”
That blurred temporality that foregrounds his sculptures and installations parallels his own trajectory, as well. “My art practice developed when I was four years old, as I constantly told myself I want to do this (play with LEGO) forever, and sometimes it feels as though my future self communicated with my past self, astrally perhaps, to ensure this very specific destiny manifested,” he says, noting that the plastic blocks have remained a fixture in both his personal and professional life since becoming a father.
Today, Nimako works solely with black LEGO, a choice designed to distinguish his practice from the iconic brand. “My distinction was that I wanted to make artwork for which the medium was secondary,” he shares. “The form and content, the embodiment of life, always comes first with my work.”
In 2017, Nimako published a guide to LEGO animals, Beasts from Bricks, and plans to continue teaching with a tutorial for building afrofuturistic worlds that’ll launch on his site this June. He’ll be included in a group exhibition at Onsite Gallery starting in June 2022 and also has a solo show slated for October of next year at Dunlop Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan. In the meantime, explore a larger collection of his elaborately designed universes on Instagram. (via Hyperallergic)
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.