(CNN) – For 42-year-old Ghanaian Canadian artist Ekow Nimako, Lego is more than just a children’s toy. A deceitful spider-deity, a florist holding a giant bee, and a Ghanaian kingdom in 3020 are sculptures he has built using only black Legos.
“I’m making art,” says Nimako. “This is art. It is not a hobby, it is not a toy, it is not part of the Lego fandom, it is not silly. It does not fall into many of the categories that Lego creations fall into.”
He 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 to realize that not only did I enjoy making Lego art, it was important that I make black art in a very specific way,” he explains.
Nimako uses black Lego bricks specifically for three main reasons. The first is technical: black is one of the colors more common from Lego, so there are many different pieces that you can use.
The second is that he just likes the color. “I think black has something sophisticated, expansive, and also something dark and sometimes foreboding or disturbing. It has a broad spectrum,” he explains.
The most important reason, however, is that the beings he creates are “unmistakably black. Regardless of your features or what you can do with them, they will always be considered black,” he says.
The building blocks of life
In 2014, Nimako made her first human sculpture, “Flower Girl”, which “spoke of the lost innocence of young black women who did not have the opportunity to be like the traditional flower girls in the West; it spoke of the girls who came here. as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, “he said.
The sculpture, which is now on tour in the UK, was initially the size of a six-year-old girl, but as her technique developed and more Lego pieces came out, she aged it and improved its aesthetics. She is now the size of a 10-year-old girl.
“There is an intrinsic essence of life in my work,” says Nimako. “The sculptures are inanimate objects made of plastic. There is something quite synthetic about them. But it is that synthetic quality that I try to transcend with life, (for example) spending a lot of time developing the eyes of each sculpture.”
The artist takes between 50 and 800 hours to make each sculpture, and says he is never in a hurry. For a sculpture he’s currently working on, he spent two hours building a jaw section, trying to find the right angles and the right parts, and “I’m not done yet.”
Expect the building process to lengthen with each piece of art as he discovers more Lego pieces and tries out new techniques to make his works more dynamic.
“It is a constant process of evolution,” he says.
Resistance founded on imagination
Nimako considers himself a “futurist” who mixes African Futurism, Afrofuturism and Afrofantasy. While African futurism focuses on the experience of the inhabitants of the African continent, the Afrofuturism focuses more on the African-American experience of looking to the future, drawing on the past and connecting with the continent, according to the artist.
In his series “Building Black: Civilizations”, Nimako reimagines the medieval tales of sub-Saharan Africa. His piece “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE”, composed of some 100,000 Lego pieces and housed in the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, it is named after the capital of a medieval kingdom of Ghana. The artist explores medieval West Africa and reimagines what it would look like 1,000 years from now.
Nimako hopes for an “inclusive future” that recognizes the history of anti-black racism and how “totally disturbing” it is, and recognizes the role of Afrofuturism in enabling people to “imagine a better world.”
“My wife always says that ‘all resistance movements have their roots in the imagination.’ You have to imagine freedom, emancipation. You have to imagine that the struggle is over. You have to project that to get up, to resist. Why what else is he resisting, if not for that Promised Land? “he said. “Even art is a form of resistance and has been used as such for a long time.”
He has recently launched online kits for his “Building Beyond” workshop, which helps people imagine and build representations of their own descendants from Lego using face templates called “legacies.” He believes that “it can help to foster sensitivity and understanding of complex cultures and ethnic groups.”
A Lego documentary
His work is being recognized beyond the art world, including by the company itself, Lego. A Lego documentary based on his work will be released in February, according to the artist, adding that “the Lego Group has been very supportive of my work. After acknowledging what I do, there is much more that we are going to do together.”
Currently, Nimako is building a sculpture called “The Great Turtle Race”, which depicts black children competing on the backs of two mythological turtles to “capture the essence of childhood.”
“We are black artists when we make art,” he said. “You don’t just exist as an artist. There is so much complexity and so many nuances and so much culture to explore. It fills me with so much joy … knowing that black children are going to be able to get involved with my work and see themselves reflected.”