Although LEGO sets themed around Star Wars or Super Mario are colorful and fun, in the right hands, they can also be art. At least that’s the case with artist Ekow Nimako’s extravagant 100,000-piece LEGO sculpture, Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE.
Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum just acquired the enormous sculpture from the Ghanian-Canadian artist, famous for his Afrofuturist reimagining of Black histories. The sculpture re-envisions the ancient Kumbi Saleh—a city once at the center of the trans-Saharan gold trade route in the Ghana Empire, that saw trades between, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe—one thousand years in the future as a monumental metropolis yet again.
The 30-square-foot sculpture was central to Nimako’s 2019 exhibition Building Black: Civilizations at the Aga Khan Museum. The piece was commissioned as part of the museum’s other archaeological show running at the same time—Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time—which explored archaic Saharan trade routes and their cultural impact.
Nimako grew up playing with LEGO sets, and has now turned the hobby into a formal artform that he uses to highlight the ancestral trauma that’s still ringing in contemporary Black culture. The artist said that his LEGO cityscapes evoke a “Blackness that is not constructed against the backdrop of enslavement, colonisation and violence.”
Though the Aga Khan Museum is currently closed to visitors, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can still peruse its online exhibitions, including a lengthy video in which Nimako gives a behind-the-scenes look at his artistic process.