With its doors temporarily closed to the public, the Aga Khan Museum marked Black History Month (February) with a series of online experiences highlighting the stories and contributions of Black artists, including “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE”, Ghanaian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako’s futuristic reimagining of an ancient, bustling west African trade hub. At the end of the exhibition, “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE” was acquired by the Museum for its permanent collection.
An Afrofuturist cityscape rendered in black LEGO®, the Museum’s latest contemporary art acquisition celebrates the cultures of the African diaspora and the power to creatively reimagine the past. Constructed of approximately 100,000 black LEGO® pieces, the 30-square-foot sculpture was the unmissable centrepiece of Nimako’s Museum-commissioned series “Building Black: Civilizations”.
The sculpture’s title – “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE” – nods to the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Ghana. In planning the sculpture, Nimako looked to the ancient city’s illustrious past and reimagined it as a futuristic metropolis. “In both concept and aesthetic, the piece represents an uninterrupted, uncooped narrative of Black civilizations that seeks to reclaim histories, reconcile ancestral traumas, and imagine liberated futures for all African peoples,” Nimako wrote in his 2019 artist’s statement for the work. “The Afrofuturistic sculpture is situated within the genre’s celebration and reimagination of a Blackness that is not constructed against the backdrop of enslavement, colonization, and violence.”
Of the acquisition, Aga Khan Museum curator Dr. Michael Chagnon said, “The meticulousness of its construction, the glittering, jewel-like quality of its materials, and its impressive scale all make Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE an aesthetically impactful addition to our Collection. More importantly, though, it is a powerful reappropriation of entrenched historical narratives. It speaks to the Museum as a place where multiple voices are welcomed and celebrated for contributing to a broader mosaic of cultural representation.”
“I feel a deep sense of honour and gratitude that my artwork is now a part of such a historical and culturally relevant collection,” Nimako says. “The Aga Khan Museum provided me with the resources and platform to explore my artistic craft and Ghanaian history, while making it possible to share my insights and ideas with a vibrant and curious community.”
The acquisition of “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE” channels the Museum’s mission to highlight the wide-ranging relevance of Muslim cultures to art and artists around the world, according Dr. Chagnon. “Ekow’s sculpture honours Muslim civilizations as inexhaustible sources of artistic inspiration and creativity in Canada and abroad,” he says. “It also reflects our ongoing efforts to open new windows on geographies often overlooked in the study of Islamic art, including sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia.”
People wishing to know more about the sculpture can watch “Picking up the Pieces: Reimagining Black Civilizations,” Ekow Nimako’s December 2019 talk at the Museum, in which he delves deeper into the inspiration behind, and the painstaking process of building, Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE. People can also see how the sculpture was constructed by watching a time-lapse video on Nimako’s YouTube channel.