October 1, 2023

I chose to use LEGO®… or it chose me (An Interview with Ekow Nimako)

LEGO®-based art continues growing in popularity. A number of world-renowned artists have selected the brick as their medium of choice. Consequently, exhibits of LEGO® creations grace museums and public displays around the globe. Of these esteemed artists, the work of one in particular struck me with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. There is an enchanting allure to each work, like gravity that pulls your imagination. And it’s Canadian. Of course, I am referring to the ineffable Afrofuturistic creations of Ekow Nimako, who recently agreed to an interview with True North Bricks. Though trying to remain professional in my communication, I was simply giddy on the inside as I got to pick the brain of such an inspiration to me and the LEGO® community. My admiration only grew through the interview. When he said, “I chose to use LEGO®… or it chose me”, I felt I was interviewing a kindred spirit.

Nimako has a long, personal history with LEGO® elements. Perhaps what shone through the interview most was that he was a fan before he was an artist. His journey, much like the LEGO® brick itself, inspires builders with possibility. Discussing his early days, Nimako shared: “I’ve loved using LEGO® elements to express myself as far back as I can remember, ever since I was about three or four years old. I think I got into it the same way as everyone else, my parents bought some sets for my older brother and eventually me, and it just took off from there.”

Ekow Nimako with The Great Turtle Race, 2022
Ekow Nimako with his piece entitled The Great Turtle Race from 2022. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Janick Laurent.

“I loved using LEGO® elements to express myself as far back as I can remember…”

“I built many sets up until the early 90’s and every year my dad would take me Toys R’ Us so I could get a big set for my birthday. Then once my daughters were able to play over a decade later, I built some with them too. But while I liked the sets when I was young, I often appreciated my own creations a lot more. The sets were where I got my parts however, so you had to buy them.”

I saw much of my own LEGO® journey in Nimako’s experiences with the brick, and I’m sure many other AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO®) can relate. Despite his early introduction to the hobby, Nimako also went through the ubiquitous dark age many of us experienced. He relates: “I actually stopped playing with LEGO® when I got into making music at about 13, then it wasn’t until the 2007 release of the live-action Transformers movie that I began building robots again. I used LEGO® parts for a few art school projects, then by 2013 I was beginning to advance my building from hobbyist MOCs to contemporary Black art. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Transformers and my 2 daughters, I probably wouldn’t be doing this.”

Anansi by Ekow Nimako
Anansi, 2021 by Ekow Nimako. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Sam Engelking.

“I chose to use LEGO®… or it chose me…”

“I used metal and wood and found objects in art school successfully, but I think ultimately, I chose to use LEGO® (or it chose me) because I just know how to use it better than anything else. Also, unlike most other sculptural materials, LEGO® is low maintenance, safe, and quite clean, so it allowed me to make art at home while my kids were around. I think it’s the most versatile medium in the world.”

While Nimako still builds LEGO® sets with his kids, his days of building sets for himself are behind him. However, he admits the sets continue to amaze. “The last one I built was with my stepson; it was a huge Technic cement truck that I picked up in Denmark. The Technic builds really teach me new building methods and I’m always surprised at how complex they are. But my brain was never very technical, more inclined for aesthetics I suppose.”

Anansi, 2021
Anansi, 2021 by Ekow Nimako. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Sam Engelking.

“I like dramatic parallels.”

Nowadays, Nimako conducts workshops and keynote speeches the world over, while continuing to build new works from his Toronto studio. As an AFOL trying to develop my own building space, I couldn’t help but ask what that studio was like. “My studio is rather organized. Akro Mils wall-mounted storage units everywhere. I strongly suggest them for builders with limited space and a growing collection. Some musical instruments here and there, black artwork and parts set against white walls, white furniture, etc. I like dramatic parallels.”

The work emanating from Nimako in his Toronto studio focuses largely on Afrofuturistic themes, which the artist describes as “a genre or philosophy that enables us to envision and create a liberated future in which Black and African people are at the centre of the narrative. It means everything to me, as does Africanfuturism, which is similar but distinct in that it focuses on narratives taking place on the continent of Africa, or with continental Africans, rather than those of us in the Americas/diaspora.” However, if you peruse his Instagram profile, you might find a piece or two to appease the fanboys/girls out there as well.

Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE by Ekow Nimako
Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE, 2020 by Ekow Nimako. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Sam Engelking.

“I don’t use computers to design.”

Nimako’s work is known all over the world for his almost exclusive use of black LEGO® elements. When asked about his brick preferences, Nimako shared “I like slopes a lot. So, any piece with angles, curves, or interesting slopes I’m down for.” He went on to describe his creative process as very hands on. “For figurative artworks I do some large scale and small-scale drawings by hand to figure out some anatomy details, I don’t use computers to design. But ultimately, I like to just start building. Eyes and heads first, that way I can build the metal armature while still developing the sculpture, or have it fabricated and welded without completely interrupting the studio process. For architectural builds, a baseplate foundation must be made first, then I get to free build since architecture is more straightforward and streamlined than people or animals.”

This process served Nimako well over many creations and years. However, when asked which of his pieces comes to mind first, he dove way back. “My artwork Flower Girl (now titled Asase Efua) was made in 2013 and she was the first artwork of a human that I made. She has exhibited several times around the world, but she has also evolved from the size of a 6-year-old to the size of a pre teen. I think because she never really leaves me, I hold her most dear to my heart.”

Asase Efua by Ekow Nimako
Asase Efua by Ekow Nimako. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Sam Engelking.

“I may get into [Minifigures], in a sense…”

In terms of where Nimako’s artistic journey is heading, the artist offered us a few tantalizing tidbits. “I will be showing two new works in a group show in the winter/spring of 2024 at OCAD’s [Ontario College of Art & Design University] gallery, Onsite. The Aga Khan Museum acquired Kumbi Saleh 3023 CE in 2019, so that artwork will occasionally show in their gallery or elsewhere (it is currently showing in Vienna at the Weltmuseum Wien until the end of 2023). And I have a show scheduled to open in 2025 at the Doris McCarthy gallery at UofT [University of Toronto] Scarborough. I will also have 4 permanent artworks installed at a new community centre being constructed in east Scarborough in the fall of 2024. One will be made of metal and kept outside, three will be made of LEGO® on the inside. I feel eternally blessed.”

Additionally, Nimako offered some intriguing remarks that might interest the AFOL community. When I asked about his relationship with Minifigures, Nimako stated “I’m not much into minifigure culture, but their gear and hair have some practical applications in my work. I may get into them, in a sense, with some ideas I have though. Stay tuned.”

On top of that, Nimako intends to drop some new NPU (Nice Parts Usage) on Instagram soon. Anyone familiar with his work can attest that Nimako’s pieces are full of amazing NPU. However, regarding the techniques themselves, Nimako said: “Most of my innovations happen on the fly so it’s hard to think of them away from the studio. But I do have something for the AFOLs that I think has not been done before. It bends the rules a little, but it may change the game too. I’ll make sure your publication is notified when it’s going to drop on IG.”

Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE
Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE, 2020 by Ekow Nimako. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Sam Engelking.

“Be unconventional and provocative…”

I am sure more than one AFOL has wondered how to make a living just building with LEGO® bricks, or even taking their builds to the next level with an evolution from MOC to art. Certainly, I know I have. I asked Nimako about his advice to the community at large. “Keep building and try to create work that hasn’t been done before. Explore your family and your culture. Be unconventional and provocative and try to avoid pop culture builds. It can be done well, true enough, but a large part of the LEGO® paradigm is based on IP sets and recreations, so making a large Harry Potter build might make your friends geek out, but it will likely not impress the art industry, if that is the goal.”

Words can’t express my gratitude to Ekow Nimako and his team for making this interview happen. It was an amazing experience for me, and I’m sure the AFOL community will appreciate the insights into his history with LEGO® bricks, work, and creative process. Nimako’s journey with LEGO® and artistry is epic but started from a place familiar to many of us in the LEGO® creative community. Ekow Nimako offers inspiration to us all.

Until next time,


Ekow Nimako is a Canadian artist from Toronto who commonly uses LEGO® bricks in creating art. You can find out more about him at his official website. Additionally, you can follow him on Instagram.
Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE, 2020 by Ekow Nimako. Image used with permission from Ekow Nimako Studios. Photographer: Sam Engelking.

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