I was recently invited to visit the Caravan’s of Gold exhibit at the Aga Khan museum to see Ekow Nimako’s Building Black: Civilizations installation. I was then invited to create my own art in response to his work. It was an honour to be asked and I have to admit I didn’t know where to start. So I took a deep breath and deep dive into the artist’s work.
Ekow Nimako is a Toronto-based Ghanaian-Canadian artist who creates sculptures using black LEGO® pieces. His work is intricate, whimsical and steeped in Afrofuturism. Coined in 1993, Afrofuturism is a philosophy that dates as far back as the 1950’s. It explores themes at the intersection of technology, race and black history and projects visuals of a powerful future for the African diaspora. For reference, I would suggest that Marvel’s Black Panther, HBO’s Watchmen, rappers Missy Elliot and Andre 3000 are just a few references that fall within Afrofuturism. Nimako’s installation uses more than 100,000 LEGO® pieces to create a world full of symbolism reflecting a different view of medieval Africa’s kingdoms.
As a photographer, I’ve never taken the time to consider the possibility of whether I’m an Afrofuturist so I took this opportunity to examine the subject matter, style and recurring themes in my work overall and this latest series Reflections.
Subject: Strong Black Femininity
No matter where I go with my work, I always come back to producing images of strong black women. It’s a comfort zone that is aspirational and deeply personal. In fact, I feel lucky and honoured to have those three attributes factor into my genetic make-up.
Style: Afrocentric & Tactile
Ekow Nimako’s work is tactile in nature. He leaves his imprint on Afrofuturism through each LEGO® piece he lays and each intricate sculpture he builds. When I think of my own process, I often make accessories and favour black hair styles. I handcrafted a crown out of braids for the model to wear as a sign of pride in her Afrocentricity.
Theme: Reflections of Blackness
While LEGO® minifigures are mainly yellow, some flesh tone figurines exist within special collections, but very few are black and brown. Given this sparse level of representation, I interpret Ekow Nimako’s approach of solely using black pieces as a way of inserting blackness into a construct that has left little room for it in the first place. I consider this to be a rebellious, inspiring and unapologetic act. And I’m here for it because representation matters. Especially when it feels like the world may choose to forget, mock, minimize or erase your presence.
I believe it is important to demand representation where it does not exist, where it is overlooked and where the status quo is too often the norm. And I use my photography to do so. In this body of work, I used the motif of the reflected image to celebrate the essence of the black woman and double down on projecting her image into the world so it can be reflected back to her.
I hope that by creating this kind of work, I am increasing the representation of positive, strong, black feminine imagery that women can be inspired by now and in the future. And if that makes me an Afrofuturist, then it’s a label I will proudly accept!
Ekow Nimako’s Building Black: Civilizations can be seen at the Aga Khan museum until February 23rd, 2020. And this Wednesday, February 5th, I’ll be attending the panel discussion Contemporary African Art Practices in a Globalized World at the Aga Khan museum. Ekow Nimako and fellow panelists Dr. Julie Crooks, Associate Curator, Photography at the AGO, and Zimbabwean artist, curator and writer Chiedza Pasipanodya will discuss how migration, identity, cultural connection and globalization interplay with contemporary art. If you’d like to join me and attend the panel, you can buy tickets here.