Nigerian designer and artist Karo Akpokiere’s philosophy is to keep exploring and think outside the box

Born and raised in the ’80s, in the city of Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest cultural and commercial hub, artist Karo Akpokiere says his inner search for free artistic expression took turns off concrete paths and onto unpaved ones, governed by the courage to experiment with diverse disciplines.
Seduced by the allure of a career in engineering, Akpokiere says that art school didn’t seem like an accessible choice at 17, despite his artistic vocation. However, one day at his local church, his calling voiced itself clearly, through the words of the bishop, who said, “The things you know how to do could give you great insight into what you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

With the aspiration of becoming a shoe designer, Akpokiere registered at the Yaba College of Technology, with a focus in graphic design. At that point, his urban illustrations using written word were evolving into a personal language.

Karo Akpokiere,  portrait

Karo Akpokiere,

However advantageous, art school shed an alarming light upon the hot topics circulating within a network he was now part of. Lesson one: market forces govern advertising. A committee seeds its creative control. Lesson two: The world of fine arts doesn’t place the artist at a position deemed respectable within the hierarchy of curators and galleries.

Unable to see himself compromised by this infrastructure, Akpokiere was to find a state of living where he could break free, retaining full control over the final outcome of his labour. An alternative realm of possible freedom fell into his lap when his parents gifted him an art book entitled 100% Cotton, in which artists expressed their vision by crossing and merging disciplines: animators using sculpture, painters using advertising. That was the missing key.
Akpokiere shares Keith Haring’s fascination with how ones work could be accessed; and Shepherd Fairey’s use of graphic design, a tool that exists in service of advertisement, to pass on non-commercial, even personal messages.

Karo Akpokiere,  Tile and Weave, 2010

Karo Akpokiere,
Tile and Weave, 2010

And so, a textile design for shoes, an illustration of a letter addressed to the continent of Africa, a comic strip about ordinary human experience, instead of trending super heroes, or simply a beautiful drawing became Akpokiere’s outputs and meditations. To him, graphic art or fine art are simply platforms to engage with for a moment’s expression. He uses this gift as a way to make connections with the world.

For the upcoming edition of the Armory Show, Akpokiere has chosen to channel his experience of the past two years through a live drawing of characters deemed valid vessels in the anticipated New York minute. He defines this session as “an art fair within an art fair.”

Through his own system of fictitious rules, the young man allows himself to progressively embody and assign to interlocutors any necessary role in service of his own artistic integrity. Freedom at last! Visions of a book consolidating the labours of the improvised séance could signify another twist in the fabric of truth.

Karo Akpokiere’s sketchbook

Karo Akpokiere’s sketchbook

He calls upon courage through a quote by graphic artist Ten Tenorio: “Keep exploring! Attitudes and necessities always meet up at some point, and when they do, people can recognise the potential solutions you propose.”

Akpokiere exists in full transparency, according to the principles that got him where he is today. He is paying attention

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The One-on-One Issue #35, on pages 100-103.