In 1971, El Loko moved to Germany to study sculpture, painting and graphics with Joseph Beuys, Rolf Crummenauer and Erwin Heerich at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he graduated as a master student in 1977. He created woodblock prints, sculptures, installations, drawings, graphics, photographs, paintings and performances in almost four decades, using an extremely wide range of working techniques and forms of expression. El Loko participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions on several continents and his work has been widely published. In addition, he repeatedly organised workshops for artistic and intercultural exchange in Europe and Africa.
El Loko, who lived and worked in Cologne (Germany) until his death in 2016, was one of the first African artists to venture into the art worlds of the West. His autobiographical book "Der Blues in mir" (The Blues in Me) - published in 1986, written in German and illustrated with woodcuts by the author - vividly recounts how he had to fight for and invent his identity and his path as a human being and artist at that time.
In Germany, at the suggestion of Beuys, El Loko experimented from 1972 onwards primarily with woodcuts before turning to painting in the mid-1980s. His series "Landschaften" (Landscapes), which interspersed colourful architectural elements with human faces, bodies and body parts and aesthetically dealt with the theme of threat, confusion and alienation in an urban context and how to overcome them, subsequently gained great popularity.
Subsequently, it became characteristic of El Loko that, for all the diversity of his work, he took up certain themes almost cyclically. His series of works "World Faces", "Cosmic Letters" and "Figure Landscapes" played a special role here, which he reinterprets again and again, seeking different perspectives and positions. Through a non-hierarchical treatment of the face or the bust portrait, the "World Faces" convey the vision's striving to abolish the differences between people of different origins, world views and gender. A utopian striving for a universal language and a global identity manifests itself in his series of works "Cosmic Letters", in a sense an alphabet of his own characteristic visual language. In paintings and pigmented steles made of wood and steel, El Loko combines ornaments, figurations, signs and ciphers of different origins and strives, by means of this symbolic sign language, for an art language that can be understood worldwide and for the construction of a meaningful world of his own.
Inspired by Joseph Beuys and the dissolution of the conventional bourgeois concept of art, El Loko also turned to temporary art actions from 1976 onwards. He developed his "duel performances", which combined poetry, song and drum rhythms and were characterised by the principle of rhetorical surprise and immediate reaction to each other.
In his installations, El Loko deals primarily with Western images of Africa and clichés in an often provocative manner. In his popular work "How to explain pictures to a pack" (1995), he ironically takes up Joseph Beuys' action "How to explain pictures to a dead hare" (1965): A gathered pack of 70 animals stands in front of a map of Africa hanging on the wall, composed of various elements and symbols like a puzzle. With this installation, El Loko not only posed questions about images of Africa, but also traced his own situation at the same time: The pack as the world that lies outside of him looks on the one hand expectantly, on the other hand more or less uncomprehendingly at him as an artist. In "The eternal mask" (2006), the artist painted 50 portrait photos of Africans with acrylic, alluding to Western views of African people: Through the disfiguring colour, the faces lose their individuality, become anonymous and frightening. In his work "Africa down", partly done in Cologne (Germany) and finished in Cape Town (South Africa), El Loko addresses the positions of Africans in the world. The visitors to the exhibition were forced to walk on 256 photos of Africans and 53 African national flags lying on the floor, through which the artist makes the oppression and devaluation of Africa and its people through colonialism and through corrupt, selfish and ignorant African rulers almost physically comprehensible. His provocative installation "Mohrenköpfe - Hohlköpfe" (2005), which questions the role of kleptomaniac politicians of black skin colour who systematically ruin their own continent and do not care about cultural matters or the economic or social development of their countries, aims in a similar direction. As in all his works, El Loko was not interested in simplistic answers or accusations, but in a serious examination of painful and uncomfortable topics as well.
El Loko at Museum Fünf Kontinente (at the center: Karin Guggeis, El Loko, Stefan Eisenhofer)