Visiting Sculptor project underway at CSUB; public lecture to be held April 19

During the next two weeks, international sculptor Jems Robert Koko Bi will be working with art students at California State University, Bakersfield to create a larger-than-life sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. Thanks to donors who contributed more than $4,000 to an online fundraising campaign, the project will take shape at full scale.

As part of Koko Bi’s visit to CSUB, he will give a public lecture about his artwork on Thursday, April 19. Details will soon be announced for a public unveiling of the sculpture to be held at the end of April.

Koki Bi is the 27th annual artist to come to CSUB through the Visiting Sculptor Program. His sculpture will be a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the form of a giant head constructed of wood. The piece is the second giant head sculpture in a series of four that the artist says he wants to construct around the world. The first, of Nelson Mandela, is on display in Germany.  

“It’s great to finally meet Jems in person after all of the email correspondence,” said CSUB Art Department Chair Joyce Kohl. “He is from the Ivory Coast where there are 64 different languages and almost everybody has to speak French so they can communicate. Jems told me he thinks in French, dreams in German and listens in English. He also speaks fluent Spanish, which has been great for some of the students.”

The project would not have been possible to execute on this scale if it weren’t for the successful campaign. The visiting sculptor project has an annual budget of $2,000, which was not enough to cover the costs associated with this year’s project. The Art Department reached its goal before the end of the campaign and the leftover funds will be carried over for next year’s visiting sculptor project.

Over the years, the Visiting Sculptor Program has grown from bringing artists from around the United States to be an international affair. Koko Bi is the second artist from Africa; two previous artists have come from Korea and four artists have been from Germany. 

“We’ve been very lucky to have artists coming from all over the world which gives our students an experience that’s really vital. They are able to work with somebody from another country and learn about the other country and culture. They also learn about the perspective of that artist as an international artist,” Kohl said.

The public is invited to attend Koko Bi’s free lecture at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 19, in the Albertson Room at CSUB. The presentation will include photos of the artist’s previous projects, more information about the current project and a chance to meet with the artist. Parking is $5. For more information contact Joyce Kohl at (661) 654-3095 or

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