Harmony and Identity

Cosmic letters.

During the past few years, EL Loko has been developing his own pictorial alphabet. It is an alphabet which embraces ornamental colour blends, figurations, primaeval symbols and cryptic signs and combines them into a homogenous whole. It has been a stage-by-stage development: whilst in 1993, within the compass of the "Searching the Traces" project, EL Loko's large stelae and prints on cotton canvas manifested an incipient tendency towards using his own pictorial language, his 1995 exhibition "How to Explain Pictures to a Pack" clearly showed how this language had meanwhile developed to become a complex unity. EL Loko's "Cosmic Letters", the alphabet from which he composes his larges-format works, are a collection of all the earthly and transcendental elements of EL Loko's cosmos. They are the product of an intensive preoccupation with the traditions of his native Togo and with the worlds of his own intellect, including the spiritual world of European Christianity. His primaeval creatures, his sun-birds, are unique hybrids, born of the confrontations of different cultures and having origin both in 20th century art and in the collective memory of Africa, in the myths and legends of its tribes.

World Faces.

EL Loko's aim is to develop a universal language but without ever losing sight of his own origins. Indeed, since his arrival in Europe, he has at last been able to return, through a gradual process of development, to his own self, to a situation in which he can rediscover his own identity as a travelling and internationally active African artist. EL Loko seeks to achieve harmony, a global overview and a global identity. His "World Faces" are allegories which make no distinctions between race, sex, religion and identity; they are the faces of other people. And other people stands for other things, for the other world, for the otherness of other tribes, other peoples, other continents. These close-ups of faces and half-length portraits have all been treated equally, without exception, and seem to face each other as eternal interrogators, as the persons opposite, as the others, whereby we ourselves begin to review our own situation and see ourselves reflected in them, in the others. Equality and universality are what EL Loko is driving at here, although differences are not ignored. We sense the artist's desire and longing to eliminate these differences through art. EL Loko's harmonizing outlook and mystical vision will ultimately succeed in uniting the widely differing views of the people of many nations and cultures.


EL Loko had to come all the way to Europe and live in exile in order to rediscover his identity. His meeting with such European artists as Joseph Beuys, who himself went a long way in search of his own identity, showed EL Loko which way to go and which strategies to use. And it is in his works of the past few years that EL Loko has organizes a determined search for his identity. The large paintings which constitute his installation "1 x 4 = 1"impressively testify to his ability to create unity from diversity without forfeiting variety. His installation "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare", a happening once performed by his teacher and mentor Joseph Beuys. What EL Loko explains in this installation is his own situation. The pack of seventy animals - those elements which stand for the world outside. EL Loko' own world - are gathered around a wall map of Africa. They are shown a world which is far away and, moreover, merely a picture. EL Loko's projection of the old traditions and the great craftsmanship of African art. But it also sheds light on the situation of the artist who, whilst living far away from Africa, is still regarded as being representative of African art and not as an artist whose work must develop within a context of interaction between near and far, identity and alienation, modernity and tradition.

Dr. Ulrich Krempel, Director of the Sprengel Museum Hannover