Keyiko Afrikan Arts

Keyiko Afrikan Arts

Creating in the Presence of the Ancestors

Kreativity is the kanvas against which my life is painted
My life is nothing more than a healing process
A journey from birth
To death
To re-birth
A journey in search of knowing.
First knowing that I am nothing
More than a tiny grain of sand blown by a mighty wind
Protected and guided by the Ancestors
Without whom nothing good is attainable.
A wind to which I have not yet fully surrendered …
But already I am beginning to experience its beauty.

This is verse lives in the head of Khali Keyi, a tiny grain of sand, who has emerged as a vessel through which the Ancestors come in the intensity of leather – to heal: KREATIVELY.

Khali Keyi, though he grew up in Trinbago (Trinidad and Tobago) in the Karibbean where the sight of men working with leather was a common sight on busy city streets, this body of craftsmen dubbed “Drag-Brothers” seemed to exist only on the periphery of his experience.

Yet in 1987, 12 years after migrating to Toronto, Kanada, Khali Keyi entered York University as an undergraduate student carrying a leather bag – the very first piece he had ever created. This was to be the formula for his transformation.

This gifted artist began creating pieces for his friends, who encouraged him to display his “work.” Even then, he could move others with the beauty, uniqueness and instructional of each piece. In that unlikely “village” in Toronto came the official embrace between the artist and the art – and Keyi Ko Afrikan Arts came into being.

Since its inception in 1990, Keyi Ko Afrikan Arts has been dedicated to preserving traditions of working with leather, as well as working leather, particularly in the form of “wearable art” including hats, bags, pouches, earrings and sandals. Art installations are also an integral component of the Keyi ko. collection. This line includes shadow boxes that contain hand-crafted three dimensional leather images which emphasize the spiritual and healing aspects of the work. Like all Keyi ko art pieces, each shadow box is different and carries its own message. Another component of the art installation line is refurbished furniture. This largely consists of abandoned wood or metal chairs which have been rescued, refurnished and given new value as art. The artist perceives this work as a commentary on the throw-away societies in which we find ourselves. “The River’s Bounty is the matrix through which I have received the gift of furniture;” he says. “Each chair has been retrieved from a position of abandonment and restored to a place of prestige and honor, offering a seat of rest and renewal.”

Further to his work as an artist and understanding that Art is where the Healing takes place…his focus is more on process as opposed to product. To that end, Khali Keyi has conducted rites-of-passage programs and workshops in diverse communities in the United States. He views the totality of the work – the art installations; wearable art and the workshops as part of an infinite spiritual kanvas, where is but one color. “While I would like to refer to this ‘work’ as mine, I cannot, simply because it does not belong to me,” he says. “Yes, it is my hands that produce the work but they are just parts of a vessel: the vessel through which the “work” flows. This work is bigger than I am; therefore, it is not about me. The art is the vehicle and the work begins where the vehicle takes me.” Because Khali Keyi’s artistic approach and process is spiritual, the work reflects the distinctiveness of those for whom he creates. Mass production, therefore, is not an attribute of Keyi Ko Afrikan Arts.

The artist also clearly understands and accepts the role of “his” work in the reclamation of the Afrikan self. “My art is but one voice, a tool chipping away at the decayed flesh of enslavement so that humanity’s wound may heal,” he says. “My hands see the Beauty in everything. My mind touches and my spirit feels, and so it is that the Art is born".