Special Project: Yusuf Grillo at Art X Lagos

4 - 7 November 2021 

kó is pleased to present a special project of limited edition prints in celebration of the late Yusuf Grillo (1934-2021), a master of modern art in Nigeria, at Art X Lagos.

Yusuf Grillo is a master of tradition, an interpreter of the present and modern. His thoughts and ideas are fetched from the deep wells of Yoruba tradition from where he drank. In his works, he weaves the riches of Yoruba wisdom and folklore into the contemporary and metropolitan lifestyle of Western Nigeria, Nigeria, and specifically Lagos, in humour, satire, and philosophical contemplation. With his intellectual mind, he baths his works in modern perspectives.


In this special and dedicated show of Art X Lagos 2021, kó worked together with Yusuf Grillo to carefully select, from his rare paintings, twelve works that take us through the journey of this creative monk and democratise them into limited prints for more lovers of his works to enjoy and acquire. This was part of Grillo’s desire before his passing. He knows how rare his works are and desiring to respond to the yearnings of different lovers of his works, he worked with Kavita Chellaram to produce a selection into prints. The show was to have taken place in September this year but for his passing. The family, by this show, has honoured his wish.


This is Yusuf Grillo’s first exhibition solely dedicated to prints and perhaps also the first print exhibition of paintings any artist/s in Nigeria has ever ventured. It answers some questions and curiosity in the art world about the rarity of Grillo and his works. It was never his intention to keep his works from public view. His public artworks are enjoyed by millions of art lovers and this print show demonstrates the artist as one willing to share his creative work with the public. This is just Yusuf Grillo, period, a simple, yet complex enigma.


The twelve works in the show, created from 1983 - 2015 are reproductions of his paintings. For example, Drummer’s Return, one of his most celebrated works was created between 1983 and 1999, seventeen years working on a single painting! Others in this show, Baraje (2011), Awo-Opa Procession (2006) and Ayi & Tayi (2008) were created within a year. From our knowledge of how the artist works, these paintings may never have escaped the touch of his brush if he was still alive. This makes all of his paintings work in progress. They offer the viewer the rare privilege to be part of his creative process, and in this sense democratising them by making all of us co-painters with him. If we pursue this ingenious creative process we immediately see that Yusuf Grillo’s works are perpetually alive. The works represent the artist’s diverse interests and concerns around human relationships, the ordinariness of this life, identity, and issues of cultural significance in a changing world, exploration of different religious themes: traditional, Christian, and Islam that are domesticated within his personal and communal cultural milieu. In these religious themes the artist, in a somewhat covert way confronts Nigeria’s ethno-religious tensions in an attempt to find harmony – recall the Organisation of Islamic Christians (OIC) that he founded.


These prints, in a limited edition, have been painstakingly and professionally produced to faithfully retain the quality and originality of the works. They are sealed and coded to give authentication and protect their integrity and source. It is our hope that the prints will enliven the homes of those who collect them and keep Grillo alive with us and in us.