The AGA KHAN Museum presents Caravans of Gold Fragments in Time, from September 21, 2019 - February 23, 2020. The exhibit showcases pieces from around the continent, including Ekow Nimako’s Building Black Civilizations.
Caravans of Gold focuses on various collections to paint a compelling and expansive story about medieval sub-Saharan Africa.
AfroToronto had the opportunity to sit down with Ekow, a Ghanaian-Canadian artist whose Afro-Futuristic work is compelling not only because of its themes but also due to his material of choice - LEGO building blocks.
AfroToronto: Why Caravans of Gold?
Ekow: Caravans of Gold is its own show, and my exhibit is called Building Black civilizations.
I'd been thinking about doing something like this for a few years actually, and it just worked out really serendipitously that the Museum reached out to me and asked me if I had any ideas that would respond to Caravans of Gold, and I had been thinking of something. I just needed something to contextualize it and also to give it a home. So, it really worked out well, and I got a chance to explore Africa in a time when there was a lot happening in terms of the introduction of Islam, the gold industry, and how that fueled world economies.
AfroToronto: Who is Ekow the artist? What started you on this path?
Ekow: So I've been working or playing with LEGOS since I was about four years old, and I continued that until I was about 14. Then I became a musician, and I was just focused on making music for most of my young life actually until my mid-20s and or even actually early 30s, then I went to Art School to study art. I didn't want to study music, as much as I loved playing it and creating it. I learned early that I had some talent in drawing, so I thought I’d go to school to study drawing, and through drawing, I got into sculpture. Then the Transformers live-action movie came out in 2007. Since, that all connected to my childhood, creating and trying to build these robots out of LEGOs, combined with my Art school education, the building blocks started to come together, please excuse the pun.
I was working for a startup company as a writer and copywriter, and then they laid off pretty much all of us in one fell swoop, and that was enough to disillusion me with regards to the corporate world and having a job. I also just came into at that point, the largest stash of LEGOs that I ever had. The Transformers had literally got me building things again, and Art school had me thinking about not making goofy things but trying to actually make Art, and I just needed a material that would work. Wood, Metals, Ceramics, traditional materials didn’t vibrate with me.
AfroToronto: What inspired Building Black Civilizations?
Ekow: A lot of it came from Caravans of Gold and this book that I've been given years ago, then I re-read it on Kindle it's called “The Medieval Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai” and it focuses on the three major kingdoms during the middle ages in sub-Saharan Africa.
Since my family is from Ghana, both my parents were born and raised there, I felt like I had a calling. Even though medieval Ghana is not the same as current day Ghana. Present day Ghana when it was called “Gold Coast” took the name “Ghana” from the ancient kingdom when they gained independence from the British in the 50s. So it is interesting that this happened, because what I'm doing with the large center-piece Koumbi Saleh ( in the exhibit), I'm taking that same name from the major trade route city Koumbi Saleh in the kingdom of Ghana and saying that this is now a futuristic city, a thousand years in the future - 3020 CE.
So, I'm doing kind of the same thing that my forbearers did, where it's like reaching back into the past, to help channel the future.
AfroToronto: What would you like the audience to take away from experiencing 'Building Black Civilizations.'
Ekow: I want them to let go of their preconceived notions of what Africa is as a continent, as a people and envision something else. Envision something that doesn't look like some kind of false notion of post-colonialism, as if it ended. I want people to also think about how they view Black people, the children of Africa all over the diaspora and really evaluate how they receive us.
For more on Building Black Civilizations and CARAVANS OF GOLD, FRAGMENTS IN TIME.