VICTOR EKPUK “Home Coming” exhibition in Nigeria featured in The Nation

28 Apr

 

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Ekpuk

Ekpuk: Home coming for a visual artist

by Edozie Udeze , April 24, 2016 at 12:00 am in Arts & Life

Victor Ekpuk,  a former Daily Times cartoonist,  left the shores of Nigeria about fifteen years ago.  He recently returned home on a residency to explore the artistic terrain.  He spoke to Edozie Udeze on his on-going exhibition, his love for residencies for artists, his artistic exploits in the United States of America and lots more.

Last year, Victor Ekpuk, a Nigerian artist based in New York, the United States of America, had a few months residency programme in Nigeria.  The idea was for him to be closer home to his country of origin and to acquire more new concepts to help his works.  This done, Ekpuk went to town, travelling familiar turfs and mingling with people.  In the end, he came out with what he termed Coming Home.

The exhibition which is on-going in Lagos at the moment was sponsored by Arthouse – the Space, noted for its commitment to the promotion of contemporary art in Nigeria.  At the opening of the exhibition, Ekpuk along with the whole clan of artists, art enthusiasts, patrons and stakeholders gathered to savour the depth and profundity of the ideas espoused by him.

In an interview, Ekpuk, a former cartoonists with the Daily Times of Nigeria (Plc), said, “well, when I came to Nigeria, I decided to open up my mind and let my experience of Nigeria inform what I did; taking photographs of me going round places, mingling, buying materials, chatting with people.  Yes, I wanted that interaction to inform the theme of the work that I do here in Nigeria.  Then I thought that my first solo exhibition in Nigeria after ten years should not be the work that I created in America and brought here.  I wanted to come here and be inspired by the environment, by the retinue of ideas and the people here in Nigeria.”

And that was exactly what he did; he went to rural and remote places to acquire materials for his work.  In the process, diverse ideas blossomed. “Part of it is the three-dimensional form that you see here today,” Ekpuk enthused.  “Yes, I’ve always wanted to do sculpture for a while now.  So I decided to use this residency to pursue that and do much more expanded volume of works.  Often when you come to residency it gives you the right opportunity to do what you may not normally do in your studios.  This was why I did that here,” he mused.

A stickler for colours and surrealism, Ekpuk did not shy away from the reasons why his focus on multi-colours has been his best forte over time.  “Bright colours are cheerful.  When I need to use them, I use them. Yet the ambience of the Nigerian set up also helped me to give these works the colours you see here today.  People dress very colourfully, the people are alive and vibrant and energetic.  All these gave rise to the bright colours represented in my paintings.

A bit away from landscapes, Ekpuk prefers to concentrate on abstracts as his best medium.  He said, “I do many abstracts works.  I don’t necessarily do landscapes.  I do the abstract so much that people may not recognize the works eventually.  That is one of the abstracts I do,” he said pointing to one of his works titled Head 6.  “Now, when you play with form, it helps you to be who you are.  That is what I am interested in.  I am interested in representing the form the way I love it.”

Having changed his perceptions from what it urged to be when he was in Daily Times, he explained however, that in life both people and things keep changing.”  Yes, it happens; people change.  This is why I now indulge in Nsibidi and Ulli art forms.  Yes, I like to draw to express things fully to show form and colour.  And the form offers me the opportunity to draw that way.  In fact, I like to reduce ideas just to form and this is why you see what you see here today.”

Trained at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, he confessed that OAU was the bedrock of his artistic life.  “OAU days was the bedrock for me to be what I am today.  It helps me to look into African ideas to have the kind of works I have here now.  It has helped me as a contemporary artist.  Even then the Daily Times days were the best days for me as an employed artist.  Today I am on my own, doing mostly studio works.  I enjoyed going to work everyday in Daily Times even when the salary was not much.  I loved what I did, using my works to deviate to politics.  I used my works to make fun of politicians.  And it was good to do that in those days of the military.”

Elucidating more, he said,” I brought my studio works into the cartoons I did.  I think Daily Times management then gave me freedom to do my work.  So it was not just to be a cartoonist as you know it, but to be a full artist.  My work in Daily Times started being abstract at a point too,” he reminisced.

In Pride of Origin, one of the series he did for the exhibition, he explained the motives behind it thus: “there, I am exploring the aesthetics of womanhood and their beauty.  Yes, Nigerian art is growing and you have to show the extent of this growth.  Fifteen years ago, there was no space like this, where you could exhibit your works.  Fifteen years ago, you had no auctions where Nigerian works could be sold for millions of Naira in an auction.  Fifteen years ago, you had practically no Nigerian art collectors.  All you had were foreigners or expatriates who came once in a while to patronize our works.

“Every weekend now you have exhibitions everywhere and all you do is choose the one you want to attend.  It wasn’t like this before.  All you had then were the French Cultural Centre and the Goethe Institute where exhibitions held once in a while.  Now, people buy works, Nigerians, I mean, buying works of Nigerian artists.  There are venues now.  Nigerian cultures are being espoused and Nigerians now consume their cultures.  It is no longer expatriates doing it for us,” he said.

He commended the Arthouse – The Space, for initiating the residency programme for artists.  “Yes,” he said, gesturing with his hands, “artists need residencies.  I was given a nice space to work.  I wasn’t here for family but to work.  This is what residencies mean.  It was a fantastic experience.  So when I came back, memories began to flow back to me.  When I went out to buy materials, I found myself in familiar terrains where I haggled, bantered and exchanged ideas with people.  Residencies should be able to do that to you so that you come out with the best works ever.”

Now, if the Arthouse Foundation can do this for the visual art, what of the other aspects of the art?  There have to be avenues like what obtains here now to prosper art generally in Nigeria.

Contact Morton Fine Art for available artwork by VICTOR EKPUK.

Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009

+001 202 628 2787, mortonfineart@gmail.com, http://www.mortonfineart.com

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