Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE

John Hill
26. February 2021
Photo: Sam Engelking, courtesy of Aga Khan Museum

Constructed of approximately 100,000 black LEGO bricks, artist Ekow Nimako's Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE is an Afrofuturist cityscape that "celebrates the cultures of the African diaspora" and a new addition to the Aga Khan Museum's permanent collection.

The large 30-square-foot (2.8 m2) sculpture was commissioned by the Toronto museum for Building Black: Civilizations, Nimako's creative response to the Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time exhibition displayed between September 2019 and February 2020. That exhibition, which originated at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, "spotlighted medieval west Africa’s sprawling trade in gold and other commodities and its role in the spread of Islam," according to the museum. The black cityscape of Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE was a dramatic juxtaposition to the gold artifacts on display in the museum's second-floor gallery.

The title of the artwork, Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE, is named for the capital of the medieval empire of Ghana, as if the Ghanaian-Canadian artist is giving the ruined city a reimagined life in the future. (Photo: Sam Engelking, courtesy of Aga Khan Museum)
Nimako wrote at the time of the exhibition that "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."  (Photo: Sam Engelking, courtesy of Aga Khan Museum)
The use of LEGO bricks, the artist explains, "further evokes a futuristic aesthetic to capture architectural forms and elements from the natural world, transcending the medium’s geometric form." (Photo: Sam Engelking, courtesy of Aga Khan Museum)

Ekow Nimako's talk at the Aga Khan Museum in January 2020, embedded below, is worth watching for learning about the artist's inspirations — from the scholarly book The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa to the blockbuster film Black Panther — and hearing about how he constructed the sculpture.

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