Karji Jimi Weah blends African roots with fantastical elements to make 'Africantasy'

Andy Downing
A section of one of Karji Jimi Weah's "Africantasy" pieces

Karji Jimi Weah traces his creative urge back through his bloodlines, pointing to a sculptor grandfather and an artist father who offered encouragement from childhood. As a young boy, Weah said, the family lived near the ocean, so he would often escape to the beach, where he would draw stick figures in the smooth sand.

“But the people, steeped in superstitions, said I was practicing witchcraft,” Weah said recently by phone.

These artistic passions deepened after Weah moved with his family to Monrovia, the capital city of West African country Liberia, where he said he was exposed to numerous kinds of art, including comic books, which immediately drew him in with their vividly colored, fantastical worlds. The principal of the school Weah attended, St. Mary’s School, recognized these interests and helped arrange regular weekend visits with a Spanish artist, who would offer critiques of Weah’s drawings. Later, in high school, an art teacher similarly took the youngster under his wing, recognizing his potential. “He could tell I didn’t just want to make grades,” Weah said. “I wanted to make a lifestyle of it. I wanted to be an artist.”

These pursuits eventually led Weah to the United States (he landed in Columbus around 1990) for what he envisioned would be a short visit, and which might have been had the first Liberian Civil War not broken out in his homeland during his U.S. stay. “And then I never did have time to go back,” said Weah, whose stepmother and father died in the war, losses that left him with less of a connection to the country. “It makes it difficult. Who do you go to? So I never went back, though I always want to go.”

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Throughout this time, Weah said he was constantly searching for his own style or voice, something that could help prevent him “from walking in the shadow” of the various artists he admired and studied. “Artists are always looking for an identity, something to classify as their own,” he said. “So I started experimenting with all forms of art."

Weah said he finally started to forge his own identity when he blended images of African wildlife — preserving some of his lost connection with the country — with more fantastical elements, an imaginative style he dubbed “Africantasy.” 

“And you cannot be agood artist without imagination,” said Weah, whose new show, “Satisfied,” opens at Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North on Sunday, July 19 (the exhibit runs through Aug. 29). The show's titular piece was also recently selected, reproduced and installed at 1359 N. High St. as part of “One World,” a new Short North mural series. 

“The creator had an unlimited imagination to be able to create us, and then he gave some of us the ability to mimic the things we see in his creation. … And that pleasantness between man and animal and the environment, that’s what I’ve tried to capture, drawing animals and beautiful flowers to accompany them," Weah said. "I wanted to make it simple, where people can easily get in touch [with the drawing], but the background always seems a little fantastic. So, when you look, you see more realism in the front and the background is faded to fantasy. That’s what it is. That’s how Africantasy was born.”

"Karji Jimi Weah: Satisfied"

Sean Christopher Gallery

Opening reception 1-4 p.m. Sunday, July 19



A drawing by Karji Jimi Weah