Ludo by Yadi highlights local design and production while embracing community recreation and functional art.
Ludo is a multiplayer game that originated from the Indian game Pachisi and was renamed in the nineteenth century by the British. It exists in different forms around the world and has become very popular in West Africa. Among its many versions is a recent take by Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu, created with the makers’ collective wuruwuru. C& discusses this made-in-Nigeria Ludo, which reflects a fresh wave of Nigerian creative entrepreneurs and artists restoring community culture and recreational objects in the age of digital distraction.
Contemporary And: You’ve been working as a multimedia artist since 2016 and your artworks often involve a playful visual language. Can you explain how you came up with the idea of recreating the board game Ludo?
Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu: I’ve always been fascinated by play and interaction, which is why I’m drawn to the idea of creating games. As a graphic designer and illustrator I have an inclination towards functional art. I constantly seek ways to not only show my work but to engage people in the process.
Ludo is one of Nigeria’s most popular board games and it has intrigued me for a while. I’ve often wondered about the individuals who crafted it, considering its numerous components – its combination of diverse elements to form a cohesive whole excites me. So I decided to embark on a fun experiment to playfully reimagine and visually reinterpret it with wuruwuru.
Everyone plays Ludo, and we all have cherished memories of playing it with friends and family. With this edition my goal is to evoke those nostalgic memories shared with loved ones. I decided to transform the game into an art piece because I appreciate beautiful objects. We even attached a wire at the back for easy hanging. Ludo is an image people have seen throughout their lives, so witnessing it emerge from a Nigerian designer’s perspective ignites a desire to own it. The whole experience has been incredibly exciting.
C&: How have the board’s look and feel been reinvented?
YU-K: We wanted to make it clear that we could produce everything right here in Nigeria and utilize our local resources, even though it can be challenging to manufacture special objects like a Ludo board. Usually things are made in China, you know? It’s not easy to find reliable, high-quality mass production capacity here unless you’re a huge business. Smaller businesses like ours have to put in a lot of one-on-one training with our craftspeople to reach the desired level of quality.
To create the illustration, I used digital tools and then printed it on canvas. For the playing pieces I decided to go with plexiglass, a material I’ve been working with for the past two years. Plexiglass is fascinating because it’s everywhere in Lagos, mainly used for store signposts, yet it’s kind of invisible – you never really think about how it’s made.
Since Lagos is essentially a rainforest, we sourced mahogany for the wooden pieces locally. Unfortunately, we had to get the dice from outside the country. We wanted to craft them from wood, but we didn’t have enough time.
C&: You describe this new take on Ludo as something that is developing its own vibe and language – can you tell us more about that?
YU-K: We really wanted to capture the essence of Nigerian play. The gameplay items are all rooted in Nigerian culture and are familiar to people here. Even the instruction manual reflects this – instead of calling the playing tokens “tokens” we decided on “robo robo,” Nigerian slang for something round. We wanted to make it truly Indigenous, so people can relate to it and understand that it’s a Nigerian-made version.
The dice container is called “kolom” instead of the generic “container.” It’s mahogany, which is relatable. What’s great about this game is its simplicity, so we didn’t try to change the rules. We wanted to keep it as the familiar, easy-to-understand game that it is.
C&: In the face of sometimes alienating digital social interactions, what place do community games like Ludo have in your environment in general and among your generation?
YU-K: The world is changing, and I don’t want to solely blame phones but it’s true that we’re becoming more disconnected. It’s just so easy to have private entertainment all to yourself. Rarely do you come across social media that’s truly for you and others. That’s why we aim to create more moments where people have the incentive to interact.
Since it’s a four-player game, you need to gather a small group who are willing to sit down, spend time together, and commit to playing as a team. In Nigeria we often have big families with lots of cousins, so there are usually people around you. Plus, our neighborhoods are structured in a way that encourages interaction. Communities are well acquainted with each other, except in more urban and upscale areas like Lagos Island. In rural areas, which are quite prominent in Nigeria, it’s customary to meet and know your neighbors, especially as kids.
There’s always an audience for Ludo. Even those who aren’t playing can enjoy the camaraderie and excitement of watching an ongoing match.
C&: Games reflect social practices of the environment in which they are produced. What values are embodied in Ludo and what have you learned from playing it?
YU-K: To me Ludo is all about connecting with people. The main goal is to make it home safe as quickly as possible, avoiding being devoured along the way. It’s a game of chance, so you just roll the dice and see what fate has in store for you. As you keep playing, you start picking up a few tricks and witness how people rely on their luck, which can make them quite vulnerable. There’s a lot of interaction among the players, which is what makes it engaging. A good game of Ludo can teach you valuable lessons about navigating competitive spaces – it is much like life. It’s about finding ways to coexist and thrive in a competitive environment. The beauty of Ludo is that it creates a safe competitive space where people aren’t trying to harm each other. When you think of Ludo, it’s always associated with safety, laughter, and pure joy.
Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu is a self-taught multimedia artist based in Lagos. Her practice centers on explorations of line, form, and boundary, which she expresses through a variety of media including painting, drawing, sculpture, and film. She often creates landscapes on paper that combine abstract elements and textures. Her work sometimes exposes the skeletal process of creating by inviting the audience to witness and explore with her.
wuruwuru is an internet-based community studio from Nigeria. It was founded in 2020 and made of seven volunteers from Lagos, Abuja, and Canada.
Serine ahefa Mekoun is a multimedia journalist, writer and producer living between Brussels and West Africa. Born at the cusp of Generations Y and Z, she is interested in all the spaces where different futures can germinate. She namely writes about creative communities and how they activate social change in postcolonial contexts.