Pyramid Scheme

Nigerian-born artist Timothy Orikri has a vision for St. Louis

Timothy Orikri flips through the pages of what looks like an artist's portfolio but is, in truth, a life story. There are recent works: familiar St. Louis architecture transformed into prismatic fairy-tale streetscapes. There are older works: paintings of Senegal and of Orikri's native Nigeria, which he emigrated from nine years ago. He pauses longer on some -- the exhibit he created for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday; the African nativity scene created with the children of Pleasant Green Baptist Church; the muted colors of his tribute to his deceased brother, Dan. Orikri works most often on murals; the pieces of art, so dazzling on paper, are breathtaking in reality.

Strange, then, that he says, "I'm not a full-time artist. Ask me. What do I do? I sell shoes."

And somehow, between the exhibits and workshops and the 40 hours a week at Neiman Marcus, Orikri has spent countless hours preparing for the "Pyramid of Peace" project at the Magic House.

"I think about this project twenty hours a day," he says. "I use my art as a medium to try to help society. People think that you have to leave that to the politicians; you have to leave that to the preachers."

Orikri, whose own father was a preacher in Nigeria for 60 years, believes strongly in using individual talent to better the lives of others. For the "Pyramid of Peace" project, he will be working with 150 children, ranging in age from six to thirteen, of different religions, races and abilities.

"This is a sad fact," Orikri says. "The kids are excited about doing this, but then you hear the stereotypes from the parents: 'Oh no, you're bringing Jewish kids?' 'Oh no, Muslim kids?'" He shakes his head. "The best way to build bridges in this society is to talk. We've been too polluted by life. Children see things much more simply."

Children and their parents are invited to meet at the Magic House (516 South Kirkwood Road, 314-822-8900) at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 14, to learn more about the "Pyramid of Peace" project. Each child will create his or her own symbol of peace to be added to the "pyramid" -- a ten-by-twelve-foot collapsible mural. Orikri plans to send the completed work, which will be presented at a gala on April 30, to the United Nations.

"I don't want the kids to just do the project and think, 'That was fun,' and then go home," Orikri emphasizes. "I want them to think, 'What are my unique talents? What can I do to help, in my unique position?'" To that end, Orikri has paired the "Pyramid of Peace" project with the "Quest for Peace" art, poem and essay contest, in which children can reflect on their own vision of peace; he hopes to compile the poems, essays and artwork into a book.

He sums up his philosophy: "I told my dad years ago, 'Dad, I don't want to be a preacher like you. I want to preach with my brushes.'" From the back of his portfolio, Orikri takes the latest chapter in his life story, the blueprint for the Pyramid. He can't help but smile.

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