42-year-old Ghanaian Canadian artist Ekow Nimako, Lego is deploying Lego into something that is much more than more than just a kids’ toy.
A trickster deity in the form of a spider, a flower girl holding a giant bee and a Ghanaian kingdom in the year 3020 are all sculptures that he has built using only black Legos.
“I’m making art,” said Nimako. “This is fine art. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a toy, it’s not part of the Lego fandom, and it’s not goofy. It doesn’t fall into a lot of categories that Lego creations fall into.”
Nimako started making Lego sculptures in 2012 and his career took off two years later when he received a grant to exhibit his work in Canada during Black History Month. “I started realizing that not only did I enjoy making art with Lego, but it was important that I made Black art very specifically,” he said.
Questioned on his preference for black Lego, Nimako said: “I think there’s something that is so sophisticated, something that is just expansive about black, and then there’s also something that is dark and sometimes foreboding or haunting about black. It has so much spectrum to it,” he explained.
In 2014, Nimako made his first human sculpture, “Flower Girl,” which “spoke to the innocence lost of young Black girls that didn’t get a chance to be like traditional flower girls in the West — speaking to the girls that came here as a result of the transatlantic slave trade,” he said.
The sculpture, which is now touring the UK, was initially the size of a six-year-old girl but as his technique developed and more Lego pieces were released, he aged her and enhanced her aesthetic. She is now the size of an average 10-year-old.
“There’s an intrinsic essence of life in my work,” said Nimako. “The sculptures are inanimate objects made of plastic. There’s something that’s quite synthetic about them. But it’s that synthetic quality that I strive to transcend with life, (such as by) spending a lot of time developing the eyes of each sculpture.”
Nimako considers himself to be a “futurist” who blends Africanfuturism, Afrofuturism and Afrofantasy. While Africanfuturism focuses on the experience of those on the African continent, Afrofuturism is more focused on the African American experience of looking into the future, drawing from the past and connecting to the continent, according to the artist.
In his “Building Black: Civilizations” series, Nimako reimagines medieval sub-Saharan African narratives. His “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE” piece, which is made up of around 100,000 Lego bricks and can be found in the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, is named after the capital city of a medieval Ghanaian kingdom. The artist explores medieval West Africa and reimagines what it would look like 1,000 years in the future.
“My wife always says, ‘all movements of resistance are rooted in that imagination.’ You have to imagine the freedom, the emancipation. You have to imagine this struggle being over. You have to project that in order to rise up, in order to resist. What else are you resisting for, if not for that Promised Land?” he said. “Even art is a form of resistance and it’s been used as a form of resistance for a very long time.”