In July of 2007, during a speech at Cheikh Anta Diop University in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy infamously said: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history.”
“The African peasant has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repetition of the same actions and the same words,” Sarkozy continued in front of a shocked audience. “In this mentality, where everything always starts over again, there is no place for human adventure nor for any idea of progress.”
Sarkozy’s remarks outraged African intellectuals who accused the French president of arrogance and ignorance rooted in colonialist thought. “This view of Africa’s distant past as a dark age without history is deeply connected with the legacy of slavery,” explained French historian François-Xavier Fauvelle in response to Sarkozy’s address. “It’s part of an ideology that developed in the western world from the 16th century onwards, when Christian western European powers began to trade slaves with Africa, and between Africa and the New World.”
Countering this pernicious erasure of Africa’s rich civilizations is the work of Ghanaian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako, who explores the history of the continent’s glorious medieval kingdoms by crafting elaborate Afrofuturistic installations made of Lego bricks.
In Building Black: Civilizations, part of an ongoing series of Lego-made sculptures, Nimako imagines the legacies of past sub-Saharan civilizations into the distant future. The centerpiece of the project, “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE” (2019), takes its name from the capital city of the ancient Ghana Empire. Constructed with 100,000 black Lego pieces, the 30-square-foot sculpture renders the lost trade capital into a futuristic, bustling metropolis with detailed references to the Islamic influences that shaped its architecture and history.
The “Civilizations” chapter of Nimako’s Building Black series was the subject of a 2019 solo exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada. The sprawling Kumbi Saleh piece is now housed in the museum’s collection. Previous chapters in the series — AMORPHIA and Mythos — respectively explored West African mask-making traditions and imagery drawn from west African proverbs.
Mythos included the monumental Cavalier Noir (2018), which features a seven-foot Black rider atop a Black unicorn. Conceptualized in collaboration with Canadian filmmaker Director X (Julien Christian Lutz), the piece “subverts the dominant imagination of public monuments and centers Black narratives,” Nimako says on his website.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
Vivan Sundaram, Veteran Indian Contemporary Artist, Dies at 79
Sundaram is celebrated for his multidisciplinary studio practice steeped in activism and political consciousness.
What’s Iconoclastic About a Blackface Madonna?
Artist Tony Rave’s work comes to remind us that piety is not strictly White.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
The Most Stirring Press Photographs of 2022
Photographs captured war-torn Ukraine, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and an Iranian woman defying the mandatory hijab law.
NY Governor’s Proposed Budget Slashes Pandemic-Era Arts Funds
The cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts budget are attributed to the expiration of pandemic relief programs, but advocates say arts organizations need more support.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
MoMA Apologizes for Kicking Out Black Artist From Installation
Museum security asked Heather Agyepong to leave the installation Black Power Naps, meant as a safe space for Black people, after a White visitor called her “aggressive.”
New York’s BIPOC-Led Arts Orgs Are Grossly Underfunded
Proposed cuts to arts funding across the state would hit entities of color the hardest.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
New Directors/New Films Festival Takes an Experimental Turn
A host of documentaries exemplify ND/NF’s unconventional programming philosophy.
Memories So Fair and Bright
Kimetha Vanderveen’s paintings are about the interaction of materiality and light, the bond between the palpable and ephemeral world in which we live.