Artist Profile: El Loko, Art in Germany, and Universal Language


Artist Profile: El Loko, Art in Germany, and Universal Language

El Loko’s story begins in Pédakondji, Togo, where he was born in 1950. After training and working in textile design in Ghana, he moved to Germany to study at The National Academy of Arts in Düsseldorf. Today he lives and works in Cologne and is considered by many to be one of the most important living African artists in Germany.
by Nicolette Stewart

In Düsseldorf El Loko studied most notably under Josef Beuys, as well as Rolf Crummenauer and Erwin Heerich.  But it was Beuys who brought him to Germany, and according to one interview, Beuys paid for El Loko’s plane ticket.

Though El Loko initially “encountered many clichés about art from Africa or an African as an artist” in the German art scene, he successfully found an artistic style and voice that helped him move beyond those clichés while combining the influences of his birth- and adopted homelands.

According to Director of the Sprengel Museum Hannover Dr. Ulrich Krempel, "EL Loko's aim is to develop an 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’s work encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, poetry, reliefs, and installations.  He has had dozens of solo and group exhibitions.  During Documenta11, his work was displayed on city trains (see photo above).

In 1996 Verlag Krumbeck published El Loko’s  autobiographical book Der Blues in mir.  In 2014, Horlemann published was appears to be a re-working of the out-of-print autobiography as part of their Africa Series under the title Blues.  He has also published two other books available in the German language: Mawuena (poetry and woodcuts) and Das Kuckucksei Ahoba (novel).

Much of El Loko’s work falls under a series titled “Cosmic Alphabet,” a title meant to draw attention to the themes of universal language and communication.  Of the  series El Loko says, “I have a dream to establish one language for the entire world, create only one way of communication between all human beings on earth. This new way would erase discrimination and racism among all people, because they would feel they all belong to the same culture…”


El Loko’s website

May 3, 2015 reading in Cologne

by Nicolette Stewart