Using Black Lego to connect Africa’s distant past to a distant future


By Stephen Weir

Ekow Nimako

Two years ago Lego artist Ekow Nimako built a statue of a girl on top of a galloping black unicorn.  The 8ft by 6ft sculpture made with over 80,000 black Lego bricks became the symbol of Scarborough at Toronto’s annual all night Nuit Blanc festival.

Nimako collaborated with filmmaker Director X, to create the art piece they dubbed Cavalier Noir. The statue stood in part, as a symbol of a bold and fearless future for the hood.

Turns out the Lego artist had just begun to think big and to think black.  Earlier this fall the Montreal born Scarborough raised Ghanaian-Canadian was at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum to see the opening of his exhibition Building Black: Civilizations.

Nimako channels Africa’s remarkable history and its powerful future into an alternate universe sculpture. It is an art piece where the ruined medieval Mauritania city of Kumbi Saleh has risen from the rubble to once again be the capital of the Ghana Empire. 

This painstakingly made monumental 30-square-foot centrepiece evokes a utopian metropolis. The Lego city is surrounded by smaller sculptures of wild animals, camels, warriors and medieval castles scenes built with over 100,000 black Lego pieces.

It almost looks like the set in the opening of the Game of Thrones TV show – Kumbi Saleh links medieval Africa’s advanced civilisations with a vision of the continent’s powerful future.

One can’t help but be in awe with what Ekow Nimako can do with simple pieces of Lego. He presents highly detailed small-scale pieces to make large images of Africa 1000 years ago, somehow forging a vision of the continent 1000 years into the future.

It’s not uncommon for visitors to wonder why it is all made with Lego pieces and why is it all black?

“Lego is not something you associate with Blackness or Black culture in any regard. Right?” said Nimako. “The standard yellow Lego pieces where they started still are almost synonymous for white. For me, well for me when I am going to make my art it is definitely going to be Black.”

Building Black: Civilizations fills a gallery within the Aga Khan Museum. It was commissioned by the Toronto museum to compliment their nearby Afrocentric exhibition Caravans of GoldFragments in Time.

The Aga Khan Museum has partnered with African nations and members of the African diaspora to bring the ground-breaking show to Toronto.

 

Caravans is both history and art.  There are recently unearthed archaeological fragments on display. There are also items on loan from national collections in Mali, Nigeria, and Morocco. Both the Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa and Building Black: Civilizations exhibitions will be on display until February 23rd 2020.

The Aga Khan Museum is located at 77 Wynford Drive. Wynford Drive is located one light north of Eglinton off Don Mills Road.