Ghariokwu Lemi is a Nigerian artist and graphic designer who is most renowned for creating many of the original cover images for the recordings of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. His work involves a variety of styles, often using vibrant colours and individuated typefaces of his own design. More than 2,000 album covers have been designed by Lemi in the last 35 years, including covers for Bob Marley, E. T. Mensah, Osita Osadebe, Mandators, Orits Williki, Gilles Peterson, Sony Okosuns, Oliver De Coque, Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Antibalas, Akoya Afrobeat, Dele Sosimi, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, 2face Idibia…etc.
Many of Ghariokwu’s cover images echo and sometimes comment on the work and politics of the recordings that they accompany, serving a consciously integrated metatextual function. Ghariokwu’s approach to his work with Kuti involved listening to and digesting the music and then expressing his reaction in his paintings, design and comments which provide a high level of detail on the many album covers he delivered.
Lemi’s relationship with Fela Kuti was very cordial. He gave Lemi total freedom with his work and thoughts to the level that he just did as he pleased, albeit responsibly, with how and what he wanted to express. Lemi had the rare previlege of putting his photograph and comments on some of the covers and was treated like a son, friend, adviser and comrade by the Afrobeat legend.
Ghariokwu’s work has attracted much attention in the West and is the subject of various retrospective exhibitions. He is on Phaidon Press’ list of 100 emerging and influential graphic designers in the world. His painting Anoda Sistem, created in 2002, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA).He holds a dual lifetime membership of the museum.
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