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Friday, May 2, 2014

Artist interview - Ekow Nimako

I'm delighted to bring you an interview with Canadian LEGO artist Ekow Nimako. Look for him to have a public show in the coming months called Black & Dangerous, but in the meantime you can see all of his work online on his site or his Flickr stream.


On to the interview:

ArtistBricks Could you introduce us to yourself? Who are you? What is your background as an artist? As a LEGO builder?

Ekow Nimako My name is Ekow Nimako and I was born in Montreal, QC. I moved around quite a bit as a child from London, UK to London, Ontario, finally settling in Toronto when I was 10. I studied Fine Arts at York U and not long after leaving academia decided to become a full-time LEGO artist. I've been building with LEGO for as long as I can remember.


AB Would you consider yourself an artist who uses LEGO, or a LEGO builder who makes art? Is there a difference between those two things?

EN I think there is a difference between a LEGO builder who makes art and an artist that uses LEGO as a medium – myself being of the latter distinction – and the major difference is rooted in the thought process. Technical skill is a requisite in both pursuits, that's a given, but to me art is politics, and as such demands a certain sensitivity to the world that is pivotal in defining oneself as an artist. It is rare you will see works I've created that are not politicized in some way. I don't simply mean to impress people with what I've made out of LEGO, I mean to effect change. It just so happens the medium I'm most familiar with is LEGO.

Auntie Puss

AB How is using LEGO different from using other media for sculpture. For instance, does the essentially squared off shape of LEGO lead to particular challenges or opportunities, or does the toy-like nature of LEGO suggest certain subject matter?

EN Good question. In my opinion LEGO is far more versatile than most sculptural mediums – and thankfully cleaner – I actually liken it to molecular science, building 'living' structures at the cellular level. I tend to use slopes for the surface, and bricks for the filler, which helps me achieve the fluid aesthetic of my objects. The toy-like nature of LEGO creates the cultural polarity I've spoken about before with regards to my work. Most people are not expecting to confront themes of discrimination, sexual abuse, or slavery when it comes to LEGO, and I think that is what makes my work so potent, and significant.

Bre'r the Runaway Hare

AB How has the art community responded to your use of LEGO as a medium?

EN I have received an overwhelmingly supportive response to my work from the art community. There are not many people in the westernized world that have not played with, or come into contact with LEGO at some point, but most artists tend to gravitate to more traditional or conventional mediums, so I stand out. That's a good thing :)

Samii - Spirit Guardian of Discipline

AB How has the general viewing public responded to your use of LEGO as a medium? Do you get a particular response from kids (including your own)?

EN The public is often in as much awe of my work as the art community, if I may say so with my modesty intact. The general response from children and adults alike is that they've never seen LEGO look this way, and I attribute that to the lack of 'studs up' or brick-heavy pieces I make. Most people are not familiar with the extensive assortment of pieces LEGO offers. I myself am still finding out about new parts regularly so it helps to keep things fresh. My daughters enjoy LEGO, so they think what I do is pretty rad, at least their friends do at any rate.

Blue Jay 2.0

AB How has the LEGO hobbyist community responded to your work? Have you ever attended an AFOL event such as a ToroLUG meeting or the BrickfĂȘte gathering?

EN The LEGO hobbyist community has been good to me. I met some key members of ToroLUG at a LEGO competition and I've since joined the group and offered up some displays in stores with them. Some come out to my exhibitions in earnest, too. I would consider myself an inactive member however, as my work keeps me focused and in the studio. There was a long period in my teenage years and early twenties when LEGO was not really a part of my life, so when I came back to it, ToroLUG members definitely helped me fill in some of the gaps with how the product had developed and certain technical and part avenues. Shout out to Nick, Sean, Rolf, and Simon.

AB I've heard you say that Flower Girl is your favorite piece from your "Building Black" exhibit. I have to agree - she is both beautiful and haunting. Can you say what this piece means to you?

EN Flower Girl was designed to be the center piece for my Building Black exhibition, and she lived up to her purpose. I was in a very heightened state of racial awareness when I created her, and because I have daughters myself, I've always been very touched by the tenderness of women/girls, and simultaneously crushed by the loss of innocence they often experience. Women are the earth's most precious resource, and I plan to explore their inherent strength and fragility much more in my future work.

Flower Girl

AB Another one that really jumped out at me from your recent show is Tar Baby, Can you say a few words about this piece?

EN Tar Baby is a very special piece indeed. She touches on many things: the torrid race relations of North American post-slavery society, the appalling past and dubiously present popularity of minstrelsy, the shadism that exists in and out of the black community and family. The fact that tar as a substance calls upon notions of cultural blackness and discriminatory slander is enough. Though, because I chose to craft this living sculpture in such a delicate state, I like to think she nullifies a lot of these negative associations, too. A sweet, slumberous ball of innocence and tension.

Tar Baby

AB One other that grabbed me in a different way was Junior. I have to say that one probably gives me nightmares. Can you tell us what that work means to you, and more broadly what your "Being Fantastical" exhibit will be about?

EN Yes, 'Junior' represents my long time fascination with myth and villainy. The son of Satan, or the anti-Christ, or however theological/popular culture perceives him, I have always been interested in the rise of the villain, mainly because most villains do not start out as nefarious beings. They are in fact often altruistic by nature until events in their lives compel them to darkness ie. Anakin Skywalker. So 'Junior' is my way of depicting a famous villain, or rather his son, before all the 'evil' besets him. My 2015 exhibition 'Being Fantastical' will be about otherness and its drastic consequences – discrimination, abuse, ostracism, violence – all told through the eyes of various mythological and fantastical beings. It will include pieces like the self-explanatory 'Rise of the Big, Bad Wolf' and 'Pariah Girl', a chilling take on the Medusa legend. It will be quite the big deal, I expect.


AB Thank you so much for answering my questions! Again, for my readers, please check out Ekow's work on his site or his Flickr stream. Also check back on his site for any news of upcoming exhibits.

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