Khali: Potrait of Artist As Spiritual Guide

[Arts & Culture]
Trinidadian born Khali Keyi, 55, a highly-skilled leather artists, studied architecture for three years before making a spiritual transition into his present calling. 

Twelve years after migrating to Toronto, Canada, Brother Khali entered York University as an undergraduate student majoring in anthropology and African Studies, carrying the first of many leather bags that were to follow. There was not only a unique beauty in each piece, but a spirituality embodied in every Khalihandmade leather object.  Encouraged by friends to display his “work”, in 1990, Keyi Ko African Arts was born.

Surrendering to the spirit of creativity, Khali 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.” So here we see where “process rather than product” comes into play.

Khali produces leather products in everything ranging from full-scale wall paintings, masks, and handbags to commissioned pieces.  A piece called “Ascension” is a leather pillow depicting enslaved Africans ascending up a mountain, with a three-dimensional, braided leather whip serving as the pillow trim. This pillow sells for $3,500 and is worth every dollar; however, most of his work ranges between $195 to $950.

In this spiritual brother’s presence, one gets the sense that Khali possesses more than just the ability to create these artistic masterpieces.  Sensing that there was more to Khali than he was sharing, and letting the conversation go where it may, it turned again back to spirituality. “It was one day back in 1991, while at my studio in Toronto – in a moment of frustration, the purpose of the work was revealed to me,” he recalls. “I was told that it was my gift of healing and it did not belong to me.  I was informed that the art was the vehicle and wherever the vehicle took me, is where the work began – I looked around but there was no one.  It was not until the occasion of my Initiation, that my message revealed its source.”  

This source, Khali explained, is his spiritual roots found in the ancient Ifa –Yoruba– culture from Nigeria.   In 2001, Khali was initiated into Ifa.
He holds classes, helping others to become “who you really are” or not; Khali has traveled to various parts of the U.S. holding classes in “Rights of Passage”. Classes are usually held in Sacramento, California, but plans are in the works to offer classes in the New York area.

Khali has  exhibited his works at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia; Essence Music Festival in New Orleans; International African Arts Festival in New York; New Orleans Jazz Festival in New Orleans.  Khali said, “The structure of shows have changed and patrons with food and bubbles have made some items irreparable.” Coupled with the weak economy, Khali’s focus has been on the “Rights of Passage” classes. 
Finally, Khali stressed the impossibility of doing this work without a clear understanding of “process over product”.  Khali K. Keyi understands and is inspired by the process which produces these exquisite hand-crafted masterpieces.
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