Born in Kingston to Jamaican and Cuban parents Kayiga forsook a white-collar job in favour of studies at the newly formed Jamaica School of Art and Crafts. He majored in graphics but after winning a Government Scholarship pursued a Masters in Fine Art degree at the Royal College of Art, London. On graduating he took a job teaching and doing post-graduate research at Makarere University Uganda and also exhibited there (Kofi Kayiga), Nomo Gallery, 1970 and (Kofi Kayiga and Kefa Sempagni), Uganda Museum, Kampala (1972). Even while in Africa and travelling he continued to exhibit works in Jamaica and London Kofi Kayiga and Aubrey Williams, Sussex University (1971). He has taught fine art in various institutions since 1966. Between 1980 and 1983 he took up an Artist in Residence teaching post at the College of Holy Cross, Worcester, MA. He is currently full professor at the Massachusetts College of Art, MA.
“My work is seemingly random but images form themselves and are recognised from a deeper seemingly unconscious place and out of that I find direction...I consider it an unconscious intelligence, not an intellectual intelligence. And it’s uncanny that a lot of African work comes out of this place. For me this is more authentic and that’s how I paint…”. (Interview with Kofi Kayiga, 2004).
Kayiga’s work is concerned with origins, ‘primitive’ in the sense of exploring the essence of human consciousness and its links with spirituality. To access this deeper understanding of the self, Kofi strips himself of his formal training and approaches his subject matter intuitively and even mystically, recovering images from deepest memory and the subconscious. His is a pantheistic world that reveals the mystery of the universe in every aspect of daily life. Inanimate objects and situations become animate and alive with animal forms, insects and cosmic creatures that remind us that the spirit world is all around us. Unlike the many artists creating during this era who were inspired by the repatriation message of Garvey and Rastafarianism, Kayiga’s world is not one of idealism mediated through the diaspora experience. Instead, he is the only artist who channeled a first hand experience of Africa into his work, resulting in an immediacy and directness that consists of bold strokes, vibrant colour fields and symbolic language.
Kayiga is a prolific artists producing more than 300 paintings per year and his work can be found in private collections world wide and major institutions such as the Museum of the Center of African American Artists, also the site of one of his most significant recent exhibitions now travelling, (Kindred Spirits: Kayiga and Winsome) 2000 to present.