An art exhibit that combines found objects, paintings and live performances will shake up Lemmon this weekend. The show is a collaboration between two Nigerian artists and their mentor, South Dakota local John Lopez. The work features similarities between African, Western and Native American culture.
John Lopez grew up in Lemmon and his gallery called the Kokomo Inn is full of huge animals. These animals are welded sculptures Lopez makes from metal objects he finds. He tries to capture an animal’s unpredictability and spirit in his larger than life pieces.
"My twist on it is to try to make it as real as possible. So you have a sculpture of a buffalo that’s made out of familiar objects but at the same time it looks like it could come alive and trample you.”
The 47-year-old is a full time artist who wants to make his home town an art hub. He says five years ago, an artist from Nigeria named Doton Popoola , found him on Pinterest and together they’ve redefined the art scene in Lemmon.
“He really wanted to come over here to learn how I assemble these scrap metal sculptures. He finally got to where he could make the trip and make it happen and I said ‘well yeah, I guess you could come stay with me’. So I wasn’t sure if this was really a real thing but I went to Bismarck to the bus station and picked him up.”
Lopez showed his new friend how he works and they started building sculptures together. Another Nigerian artist joined them and now people commission Popoola and his friend to paint murals. Lopez says the three collaborate and bounce ideas off one another, even from a distance.
“Anytime the boys come to do this show, we do get people from North Dakota, from Isabelle, from Mobridge, from Faith. It is interesting and it surprises me that so many people come but when you meet the boys and you see their personality and how honest they are, you just see this overwhelming desire to please. And they love to share their stories.”
Now, the three artists do an annual exhibit in Lemmon. This year they focus on the relationship between man and animals.
Dotun Popoola has a master’s degree in art. He’s a full time artist and travels between U.S. cities and Nigeria to paint commissioned murals. He says Lopez taught him metalwork techniques he didn’t learn in school.
“But he was able to teach me that without hiding any secret or any approach to me. So I feel he has been a blessing to my life, more than I have been to him.”
When he works in Nigeria, Popoola uses scrap metal from car lots then paints highlights and shadows that make his pieces look realistic. The 37 year old calls the process upcycling since he’s uses recyclable pieces.
“I have a gallery that represents me in Nigeria and most of the time I take my work to them to sell. But recently I was able to do a solo exhibition of hybrid sculptures. With that I was able to break into the market. So I’m always busy in the studio with commissioned works and private works to showcase in galleries.”
At this year’s show, Popoola has sculptures and paintings on display. He’s also sharing a Nigerian folktale about hunting that draws out similarities between indigenous cultures in both countries. He’s learned a lot from his relationship with Lopez.
“The relationship has grown far far far beyond mentor to an apprentice but it is now more like brothers. We are more like brothers.”
Popoola brought another Nigerian artist to South Dakota this year to help him paint murals. Jonathan Imafidor’s paintings are a part of the art exhibit in Lemmon.
“I basically use acrylics on canvas. And then I use my acrylics in a way that we have a whole lot of different colors coming together to form the subject on the canvas. So it’s kind of different from the traditional painting technique that you see every time.”
Imafidor taught art at a Nigerian university. The 30 year old moved to Atlanta to pursue a master’s degree in painting last fall. He says his time in Lemmon with John Lopez helped him make the decision.
“Since I met John I’ve learnt a lot of things, I’ve learnt a lot of things about art. And he is the reason why I have come to the U.S. to do a master’s degree in painting.”
Imafidor says Lopez is a mentor, and he now plans to pursue a Ph.D. and continue teaching art in the U.S. He’s using the art show as an opportunity to practice.
“After the opening date there will be a workshop where myself and my friend will demonstrate how we make this art. So there will be demonstrations. People can come around and see. I will teach how to make portraits, teach how to paint in my technique, we will teach how to paint in watercolor.”
Imafidor plans to collaborate on another more mobile project. All three artists will paint a mural on his van to reflect their work.
“It’s going to be highly symbolic because most of our work, we try to include a lot of African traditional symbols and Native American symbols. So we are going to be combining all of that to deliver our message.”
All three artists are passionate about Lemmon and want to see the art scene grow. The annual exhibit lets them share not only their art work, but their stories as well.