Karji Jimi Weah traces his creative urge back through his bloodlines, pointing to a sculptor grandfather and an artist father who offered encouragement from childhood. As a young boy, Weah said, the family lived near the ocean, so he would often escape to the beach, where he would draw stick figures in the smooth sand.
“But the people, steeped in superstitions, said I was practicing witchcraft,” Weah said recently by phone.
These artistic passions deepened after Weah moved with his family to Monrovia, the capital city of West African country Liberia, where he said he was exposed to numerous kinds of art, including comic books, which immediately drew him in with their vividly colored, fantastical worlds. The principal of the school Weah attended, St. Mary’s School, recognized these interests and helped arrange regular weekend visits with a Spanish artist, who would offer critiques of Weah’s drawings. Later, in high school, an art teacher similarly took the youngster under his wing, recognizing his potential. “He could tell I didn’t just want to make grades,” Weah said. “I wanted to make a lifestyle of it. I wanted to be an artist.”
These pursuits eventually led Weah to the United States (he landed in Columbus around 1990) for what he envisioned would be a short visit, and which might have been had the first Liberian Civil War not broken out in his homeland during his U.S. stay. “And then I never did have time to go back,” said Weah, whose stepmother and father died in the war, losses that left him with less of a connection to the country. “It makes it difficult. Who do you go to? So I never went back, though I always want to go.