Art connects two continents

Published: Jul. 3, 2017 at 2:54 PM CDT
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Seven-thousand miles separate Nigeria and, Lemmon, South Dakota. That distance, and two distinct cultures are being bridged by art.

A cowboy metal sculptor and a couple of West African painters have forged a connection through canvas, color, and scrap iron.

The Kokomo Inn is once again attracting patrons.

"It was a very popular place. A lot of people had their first beer here," said metal artist John Lopez.

The border town bar's claim to fame flows from the 3/2 beer it served to teens and 20-somethings, back when the legal drinking age was 18 in South Dakota, but 21 north of the state line.

"I was in the Kokomo probably a few times, right," said Judy Larson, Lemmon, S.D.

Now, clients drink in art instead of Budweiser.

"Throughout the winter, when there was a lot of snow on the ground, people would stop by, license plates from all over the United States were able to find us," said Shane Penfield, Lemmon, S.D.

" My Children, they get to see world class art in our small town," said Judy Larson.

World famous artist John Lopez spent thousands of dollars to renovate the Kokomo into an art gallery featuring his metal sculptures.

"We put like 10 windows in this thing, I wanted as much light as possible without the building falling down," said Lopez.

John's work is complemented by paintings created by a couple of artists from Nigeria.

"I try to put the African sculpture on the prairie ground giving it a cowboy hat and the cowboy boots, so in a way uniting the two cultures," said Oludotun Popoola, Nigerian artist.

Oludotune Popoola and Jonathan Imafidor came to South Dakota to learn hybrid metal sculpture techniques from Lopez. While they're here, the two African artists are creating murals on the exterior walls of the Kokomo and displaying their own art inside.

"I have the Indian Chief making use of beads and feathers and you see the Benichou Chief with feathers and beads as well and the unique kind of haircut," said Imafidor.

This painting is called "Beads and Feathers." It illustrates how African chiefs and Native American leaders adorn themselves in similar fashion.

In the future, other artists will be invited to display paintings at the Kokomo, alongside the permanent John Lopez collection.

The African art exhibit will be on display at the Kokomo Inn through the Boss Cowman celebrating, July 6th through the 9th in Lemmon, S.D.