Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lemi Ghariokwu

Ghariokwu Lemi, is a self taught Nigerian fine artist, graphic designer, Illustrator and songwriter, well known for his captivating and intricate record sleeves. He is best known for creating the cover art work for many of Fela Kuti's records. He has also designed the cover of Cassava Republic's republication of Fela: this Bitch of a Life - the authorised biography of Fela Kuti.

His work involves a variety of styles, often using vibrant colours and unique typefaces of his own design. Lemi has designed more than 2,000 album covers in the last 36 years, including covers for Bob Marley, E. T. Mensah, Osita Osadebe, Mandators, Orits Williki, Gilles Peterson, Sony Okosuns, Oliver De Coque, Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Antibalas, Akoya Afrobeat, Dele Sosimi, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, 2face Idibia...etc.

You might say his art is rebellion, comical, political, even erotic but most of all he is a genius in pictorial narration. Observer Music Magazine (Guardian, UK) called him “King of Covers” in 2004.

Many of Ghariokwu's cover images echo and sometimes comment on the work and politics of the recordings that they accompany, serving a consciously integrated meta-textual function. Ghariokwu's approach to his work with Kuti involved listening to and digesting the music and then expressing his reaction in his paintings, design and comments which provide a high level of detail on the many album covers he delivered.

Lemi's relationship with Fela Kuti was very cordial. Fela gave Lemi total freedom with his work and thoughts to the level that he just did as he pleased, albeit responsibly, with how and what he wanted to express. Lemi had the rare privilege of putting his photograph and comments on some of the covers and was treated like a son, friend, adviser and comrade by the Afrobeat legend.

Ghariokwu's work has attracted much attention in the West and is the subject of various retrospective exhibitions. He is on Phaidon Press’ list of 100 emerging and influential graphic designers in the world. His painting Anoda Sistem, created in 2002, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA). He holds a dual lifetime membership of the museum.

Lemi Ghariokwu is surely one of Africa’s best-kept secrets. Art lovers who wanted to meet this amazing character travelled far and wide to meet him. Professor Wolfgang Bender from Mainz University, Germany was so intrigued with Ghariokwu’s style of art he created a Art Project/Thesis at the Institute for Ethnology and African Studies for his students.

In July 2003, he participated in "BLACK PRESIDENT: THE ART AND THE LEGACY OF FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI" in New York, contributing 13 pieces of work all originals. On this trip, the President of MTV, commissioned Ghariokwu to paint his first painting on American soil, “EVERYBODY’S GOTTA BE SOMEBODY” which then inspired film maker Aaron Koenigsberg to follow Ghariokwu around New York and document the trip.

Ghariokwu is constantly exhibiting and holding workshops around the globe: he sees the world as his oyster and aims to leave a lasting legacy in his own style of art.

In June 2010, Lemi was commissioned and successfully branded FELA-BUS, a sort of marketing mural-on-wheels, for the producers of the hit Broadway musical “FELA!” in New York.


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