Tag Archives: African Art

Preview of Morton Fine Art’s Booth at Prizm Art Fair in Miami

29 Nov

 

 

Sneak Preview of Morton Fine Art’s Booth at Prizm Art Fair in Miami
Contact the gallery for complimentary passes.
Morton Fine Art will be closed 12/5-12/8 during our time in Miami, however we are available by phone (202) 628-2787 or mortonfineart@gmail.com if you need to reach us!
OSI AUDU
THE TANGIBLE AND INTANGIBLE
I explore the light sheen of graphite, the matte, light absorbing quality of black pastel, the white of paper and canvas, as well as the visually affecting interactions of colors to investigate form and its evocative potential to suggest or hint at something about the shape of the head. I am interested in the dualism of form and void, and the ontological relation between the tangible and intangible, something and nothing, light and dark, body and mind, the dual nature of being – the self in portraits.
The construction of a sense of self is a very complex process, perhaps even more so in our increasingly global age, in which the boundaries between race, nationality, gender and sexuality are getting more and more blurred. I am interested in issues of self identity, and in concepts of the self rooted in my cultural experiences growing up in Nigeria, as well as global metaphysical, scientific, and social concepts of the self. There is a Yoruba thought that consciousness, referred to as the “head”, has both a physical dimension called the “outer head” and a non-physical one: “the inner head”. It is the visual implications of concepts like this that I find intriguing. The title, Self-Portrait, in my work, is more about the portrait of the intangible self, rather than a literal portrait of the artist. – OSI AUDU
COLLECTIONS
Smithsonian Museum of African Art
The Newark Museum
The British Museum
Horniman Museum
Wellcome Trust Gallery
OSI AUDU, Self-Portrait after Dogon Bird Mask II, 2018, 15″x22″, graphite and pastel on paper mounted on canvas
OSI AUDU, Self Portrait after Igbo Mask, 2018, 11″x15″, acrylic on canvas
KESHA BRUCE
KESHA BRUCE, The Sky Opened for Her, 2016, 60″x48″, mixed media on canvas
KESHA BRUCE, Fight Fire with Fire, 2017, 40″x30″, mixed media on canvas
Artwork is spiritwork.
When I pray, I ask my ancestors for the bravery to follow and make manifest the deepest truths and longings of my heart. Every artwork I create is an answered prayer.
In this current political and social moment my prayers are especially urgent: Where can Black women feel safe? Where can we feel free? How do we protect our spirits from those who mean to destroy us?
As an artist, these questions always lead me back to my work.  In my experience, the most powerful weapon for spiritual warfare is joy. I’m not being hyperbolic when I tell you that the process of making artwork has saved my life many, many times. Art is a refuge for the spirit. It offers us a way to understand and heal ourselves. I am of the mind that something absolutely prophetic can be revealed in both the act of making and the act of looking at art.
Art objects embody spiritual power.
I believe this so firmly now, that it seems almost surreal to think back to a time, not so long ago, when I was afraid to speak about my work in spiritual terms for fear of being called less serious or less intellectually rigorous. It’s clear to me now that often our fears show us the parts of ourselves that are desperately waiting to be revealed. To be set free.
So, I present this new work with the firm knowledge that what I am creating is an important and worthy contribution to the current cultural dialogue. More importantly, I consider my work a part of a strategy for resistance. Even as we steel ourselves for battle ahead, we must remember to leave room for joy.
Joy is sacred and so it is worth fighting for.
Remember to fight.
-KESHA BRUCE
SELECTED COLLECTIONS
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (14 pieces), Washington, DC
The Amistad Center for Art and Culture, Hartford, CT
The Museum of Modern Art, Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection, New York, NY
The University of Iowa Women’s Center, Iowa City, IA
The En Foco Photography Collection, New York, NY
The Museum of Modern Art/Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection, New York, NY
NATHANIEL DONNETT
African textiles, Gee’s Bend Quilts, and the everyday aesthetic within
the historic African American neighborhoods of Houston, Texas inspire “Boom”. This
work acts as a reminder to the extrinsic value of these neighborhoods through the
lens of its spatial geography and relationship to gentrification, along with objects
and form in terms of cultural iconography, and the everyday aesthetic. Drum
notations and Houston’s hip-hop car culture formulate the abstract patterns. These
patterns act as a response to the marginalization of Black American identity, the black spatial imaginary, and contemporary art. During the times of American slavery, it was said that southern quilts communicated warnings to the slaves.
Although this was found to be a myth, this contemporary makeshift quilt does
communicate moments of neighborhood erasure and the silencing of its cultural
contributions. It also simultaneously celebrates the neighborhood’s cultural socio-
consciousness and overall complexity.
-NATHANIEL DONNETT
MUSEUM EXHIBITIONS
The Ulrich Museum, Wichita, KS
The McColl Center, Charlotte, NC
The American Museum, Washington, DC
The Kemper Contemporary Arts Museum, Kansas City, MO
The Theresa Hotel, Harlem, NY
Harvey B Gantt Art Center for African American Arts and Culture, Charlotte, NC
The Community Artist’s Collective
The Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury CT
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX
Project Row Houses, Houston, TX
The University Museum, Houston, TX
The New Museum, New York, NY
NATHANIEL DONNETT, Boom, 2018, 40″x46″, duct tape, plastic and photographs on paper
VICTOR EKPUK
VICTOR EKPUK, Head 4, 2015, 45″x48″, acyrlic on panel
VICTOR EKPUK, Mask Series 1, 2018, 24″x18″, acrylic on canvas
Victor Ekpuk is a Nigerian-American artist based in Washington, DC.
His art, which began as an exploration of nsibidi “traditional” graphics and writing systems in Nigeria, has evolved to embrace a wider spectrum of meaning that is rooted in African and global contemporary art discourses.
Guided by the aesthetic philosophy nsibidi, where sign systems are used to convey ideas, Ekpuk re-imagines graphic symbols from diverse cultures to form a personal style of mark making that results in the interplay of art and writing.
Ekpuk’s art reflects his experiences as a global artist. “The subject matter of my work deals with the human condition explained through themes that are both universal and specific: family, gender, politics, culture and Identity” -Victor Ekpuk
COLLECTIONS
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian Museum of African Art
Brooks Museum
Krannert Art Museum
Arkansas Art Center
Fidelity Investments
Newark Museum
The World Bank
University of Maryland University College Art Collection
The U. S. Department of State
MAYA FREELON
Maya Freelon is an award-winning visual artist whose work was described by the late poet Maya Angelou as “visualizing the truth about the vulnerability and power of the human being.” Cosmopolitan Magazine featured her in June 2015 in “Art Stars” calling her one “of the most badass female artists in the biz.”  She was commissioned by Google to design original art for their OnHub router, by Cadillac to create a live-sculpture for their Dare Greatly creative campaign, and by the North Carolina Museum of Art to create a collaborative tissue paper sculpture celebrating the opening of their African Art wing. Her unique tissue paper art, praised by the International Review of African American Art as “a vibrant, beating assemblage of color,” has been exhibited internationally, including shows in Paris, Jamaica, Madagascar, and Italy. She was selected by Modern Luxury Magazine as Best of the City; by Huffington Post as “Black Artists: 30 Contemporary Art Makers Under 40 You Should Know”; and by Complex magazine as “15 Young Black   Artists Making Waves in the Art World.”  Maya has completed residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, the Korobitey Institute in Ghana, and the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia. She earned a BA from Lafayette College and an MFA from theSchool of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
COLLECTIONS
U.S. State Department
U.S. Embassy in Madagascar
U.S. Embassy Swaziland
U.S. Embassy Rome
The University of Maryland (David C. Driskell Center)
Johns Hopkins University
Rocketship Rise Academy;
The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum
The School of the Museum of Fine Arts The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Lafayette College
The Brandywine Workshop
The Experimental Printmaking Institute
The Williston Northampton School
The Kokrobitey Institute
Lewis Tanner Moore
Dr. Maya Angelou
photo credit: Christopher Charles
MAYA FREELON, Compression, 2017, 44″x34″, tissue ink monoprint
MAYA FREELON, Intuition, 2017, 46″x44″, tissue ink monoprint
AMBER ROBLES-GORDON
AMBER ROBLES-GORDON, Awakening the Matrilineal: Calling in the West, 36″x36″, mixed media on canvas
AMBER ROBLES-GORDON, Awakening the Matrilineal: South and of the Fire, 2016, 34″x35″, mixed media on canvas
Awakening the Matrilineal
“My artwork is a visual representation of my hybridism: a fusion of my gender, ethnicity, cultural, and social experiences. I impose colors, imagery, and materials that evoke femininity and tranquility with the intent of transcending or balancing a specific form. I associate working with light, color, and energy as a positive means to focus on the healing power found in the creative process and within us all. It is my belief that colors have both feminine and masculine energies and each color represents a specific aspect of nature.” -Amber Robles Gordon
COLLECTIONS
Judith A. Hoffberg Archive Library
University of California, Santa Barbara, CA Masterpiece Miniature Art Exhibition, Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia Capital One Bank, Mc Clean,Virginia District of Columbia’s Art Bank, Washington, D.C.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY
The Gautier Family Collection, Washington, DC
NATE LEWIS
In continuing my work with black figures I sculpt in unseen tensions of the past present and future on bodies with the idea of utilizing diagnostic lenses and contrast dyes to reveal erased and unknown histories and patterns.
Through the use of presence, absence, distortion and illusion and while in a time when the digital world has severe control of our information feeds I aim to challenge our lens’, the powers that hold our attention, and create opportunities for questioning and perspective alteration.
In my time working as a critical care nurse, we would use a multitude of lenses to gain a broad understanding of what is going on with any given situation to find homeostasis. While facts and diagnostic information can inform us of any given situation, without empathy and perspective alteration, our hearts will remain unchanged.
– NATE LEWIS
Nate Lewis grew up in Beaver Falls, near Pittsburgh, Pa. He graduated from VCU with his BSN and was a practicing critical care nurse for five years as well as professional fine artist. He has been awarded prestigious residencies at Pioneer Works and Dieu Donne in NYC, Agora Culture on Martha’s Vineyard and won a number of artist fellowship grants from the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities.
NATE LEWIS, Spirit Suite, 2018, 21.5″x26″, hand sculpted photo paper print
NATE LEWIS, Traverse Suite, 2018, 26″x26″, hand sculpted photo paper print
About Morton Fine Art
Founded in 2010 in Washington, DC, Morton Fine Art (MFA) is a fine art gallery and curatorial group that collaborates with art collectors and visual artists to inspire fresh ways of acquiring contemporary art. Firmly committed to the belief that anyone can become an art collector or enthusiast, MFA’s mission is to provide accessibility to museum-quality contemporary art through a combination of substantive exhibitions and a welcoming platform for dialogue and exchange of original voice.
Morton Fine Art
52 O St NW #302
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 628-2787
For further information and images, please contact Amy Morton:
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OSI AUDU’s “Dialogues with African Art” at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild in New York

11 Oct

Osi Audu: Dialogues with African Art – Artist’s Talk and Opening Reception

When:   October 20, 2018 @ 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Where:   BYRDCLIFFE Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker Street, Woodstock, NY

Opening on Friday October 19, the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts presents the solo exhibition OSI AUDU: DIALOGUES WITH AFRICAN ART. Mr. Audu, who lives in Hurley, New York, will give an artist’s talk on Saturday, October 20, at 3:00 pm. The public opening reception for the show follows at 4:00 pm on Saturday.

OSI AUDU: DIALOGUES WITH AFRICAN ART examines issues of identity rooted in the artist’s cultural experiences growing up in Nigeria, as well as broader metaphysical and social concepts of the self. Audu’s paintings, some of them very large in scale, are influenced by the abstract geometric possibilities in traditional African sculpture; thus the exhibition also includes examples of original nineteenth- and twentieth-century African sculpture that the artist uses as inspiration for his work. Describing the works in the show, Audu writes: “I am interested in the dualism of form and void, and the metaphysical relation between the tangible and intangible, something and nothing, light and dark, body and mind, the dual nature of being—the self in portraits.” The title “self-portrait” that Audu uses in his work is about the portrait of the intangible self, rather than a literal portrait of the artist.

Osi Audu is a Nigerian-American artist whose work has been shown in numerous international exhibitions including the Kwangju Biennale, Venice Biennale, the Africa-Africa exhibition at the Tobu Museum, Japan, and the Museum of the Mind at the British Museum. His work has also been exhibited at and collected by public institutions including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, The Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, the British Museum, Horniman Museum, and Wellcome Trust Gallery, all in London, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and the Mott-Warsh Collection in Flint, Michigan. His work has also been acquired for corporate collections including by Sony Classical New York, the Fidelity Investment Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Schmidt Bank in Germany.

Audu curated an international exhibition of contemporary African art which opened at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit in September 2017, then traveled to the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York, New Paltz, and the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018.

He is a current recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant.

The exhibition is curated by Sylvia Leonard Wolf, who is the chair of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s Exhibition Committee. A full color catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Below is an excerpt from an essay in the catalogue:

Audu is, in effect, reclaiming abstraction…Through the language of abstraction, Audu seeks to create a container or a frame for the intangible that is the self. In choosing to dialogue with works of African art that are themselves symbolic representations of concepts, he situates his geometric abstraction firmly within African ontologies. And in doing so, he also makes tangible the intangible, or perhaps hidden, presence of African sculpture within the legacy of Western modernism.
— Christa Clarke, Ph.D. (Senior Curator, Arts of Global Africa, Newark Museum)

OSI AUDU: DIALOGUES WITH AFRICAN ART is open through Sunday, December 2. The gallery is open Thursday-Sunday: 12:00 – 6:00 pm or by appointment. School groups and other organizations can schedule group visits with the artist by contacting derin@woodstockguild.org.

Click HERE to view available artwork by  OSI AUDU.

OSI AUDU : DIALOGUES WITH AFRICAN ART, Woodstock NY

26 Sep
SelfPortraitwithEgungunHairstyle_web

OSI AUDU, Self-Portrait with Egungun Hairstyle, 2018. Graphite and pastel on paper mounted on canvas, 22 x 31 inches

 

OSI AUDU: DIALOGUES WITH AFRICAN ART at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, Woodstock NY

Solo exhibition opens Friday October 19th and is open through Sunday, December 2.  The gallery is open Thursday-Sunday: 12:00 – 6:00 pm or by appointment.

Mr. Audu, who lives in Hurley, New York, will give an artist’s talk on Saturday, October 20, at 3:00pm and the public opening reception for the show follows at 4:00 on Saturday.
OSI AUDU: DIALOGUES WITH AFRICAN ART examines issues of identity rooted in the artist’s cultural experiences growing up in Nigeria, as well as broader metaphysical and social concepts of the self. Audu’s paintings, some of them very large in scale, are influenced by the abstract geometric possibilities in traditional African sculpture; thus the exhibition also includes examples of original nineteenth- and twentieth-century African sculpture that the artist uses as inspiration for his work. Describing the works in the show, Audu writes: “I am interested in the dualism of form and void, and the metaphysical relation between the tangible and intangible, something and nothing, light and dark, body and mind, the dual nature of being—the self in portraits.” The title “self-portrait” that Audu uses in his work is about the portrait of the intangible self, rather than a literal portrait of the artist.

Osi Audu is a Nigerian-American artist whose work has been shown in numerous international exhibitions including the Kwangju Biennale, Venice Biennale, the AfricaAfrica exhibition at the Tobu Museum, Japan, and the Museum of the Mind at the British Museum. His work has also been exhibited at and collected by public institutions including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, The Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, the British Museum, Horniman Museum, and Wellcome Trust Gallery, all in London, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and the Mott-Warsh Collection in Flint, Michigan. His work has also been acquired for corporate collections including by Sony Classical New York, the Fidelity Investment Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Schmidt Bank in Germany.

SelfPortraitAgbogoMmwoMask_web

OSI AUDU, Self-Portrait, after Agbogo Mmwo Mask, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 58 inches

Audu curated an international exhibition of contemporary African art which opened at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit in September 2017, then traveled to the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York, New Paltz, and the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018.

He is a current recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant.

The exhibition is curated by Sylvia Leonard Wolf, who is the chair of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s Exhibition Committee. A full color catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Below is an excerpt from an essay in the catalogue:

Audu is, in effect, reclaiming abstraction…Through the language of abstraction, Audu seeks to create a container or a frame for the intangible that is the self. In choosing to dialogue with works of African art that are themselves symbolic representations of concepts, he situates his geometric abstraction firmly within African ontologies. And in doing so, he also makes tangible the intangible, or perhaps hidden, presence of African sculpture within the legacy of Western modernism.

— Christa Clarke, Ph.D. (Senior Curator, Arts of Global Africa, Newark Museum; Board President, Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) and AAMC Foundation)

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For additional information about artist OSI AUDU please contact Morton Fine Art at mortonfineart@gmail.com -or- (202) 628-2787.  Follow the highlighted link to view all available artwork by OSI AUDU on our website www.mortonfineart.com.

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All 2018 Byrdcliffe arts programming is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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VICTOR EKPUK book signing event Saturday, Sept 1, 2018 from 2-4pm at Morton Fine Art

26 Aug
Please join us for VICTOR EKPUK’s book signing party this Saturday, September 1st from 2pm-4pm. We will be celebrating the near 500 page, mid career retrospective titled “Victor Ekpuk : Connecting Lines Across Space and Time”, Edited by Toyin Falola. This incredible book includes fascinating writings by 13 scholars and countless images of Victor’s brilliant creations.

 

 

OSI AUDU at SUNY New Paltz’s Dorsky Museum

18 Jan

ART BEAT: Exhibition of work by African artists opens Jan. 24 at SUNY New Paltz’s Dorsky museum

“Rooted” by Nenna Okore.
“Rooted” by Nenna Okore. 

This exhibition shows how contemporary African artists are using abstraction to create works that are thematically or conceptually connected to the continent, and as a way of engaging in a broader conversation about art. Curated by Osi Audu, an artist and independent curator, “Abstract-Minded” will be on view in the museum’s Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery and North Gallery.

The exhibition does more than look for the African in African art; it asks questions about what contemporary African art is, and what it does, in an increasingly global socio-cultural landscape. The artits whose works are featured are Osi Adu, Nicholas Hlobo, Serge Alian Nitegeka, Odili Donald Odita. Nnenna Okore and Elias Simé. For the artists, all born and/or raised in countries in Africa, aesthetic engagement with form is as important as their works’ symbolic, historical, political or conceptual significance.

Audu’s work, described by R.C. Baker as “shape-shifting … space-warping geometric abstraction,” examines complex issues of self-identity and the relationship between the dual aspects of the self (the tangible and intangible), by referencing the Yoruba thought that the human head has both a spiritual dimension (the “inner Head”) and a physical one (the “outer head”).

Hlobo uses stitching and color on paper and other materials, producing abstract forms that could be interpreted as an unconscious attempt to stitch together his divided South Africa. His repetitive process of “suturing” appears to seek the healing of deep wounds; a portrait of a nation at once frightening and beautiful.

Nitegeka, born in Burundi, is inspired by his love of the industrial infrastructure he finds in his home city of Johannesburg, South Africa. His work describes “the long and broad highways, complex flyovers, elaborate use of cast concrete on roads and skyscrapers, and the grid layout of the city centre.”

Odita uses color and pattern to produce visually captivating paintings as a metaphor for his personal experiences and travels, expressing a “desire to speak positively about Africa, and its rich culture.”

Okore’s creative process, informed by the technical practices (weaving, rolling, waxing, twisting, dyeing and sewing) she learned from villagers in her native Nigeria, repurposes discarded materials to create entrancing webs of lines and colors that critique the culture of consumption she observes in her homeland.

Elias Simé draws inspiration from the Addis Mercato, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, widely considered the largest and most vibrant open-air marketplace in Africa. He uses discarded electrical equipment and detritus to produce a patchwork of images and experiences described by Quinn Latimer as “the feverish fusion of a multivalent society.”

“Abstract-Minded” runs through Sunday, April 15. An opening reception will take place Saturday, Feb. 10.

Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, It is closed Mondays, Tuesdays, holidays and intersessions.

Call (845) 257-3844 or visit newpaltz.edu/museum for more information.

Click HERE to view the article in full.

VIEW AVAILABLE ARTWORK BY OSI AUDU.

Or contact Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009 for artwork by internationally renowned Nigerian artist, OSI AUDU. (202) 628-2787, mortonfineart@gmail.com, http://www.mortonfineart.com

VICTOR EKPUK Mention in The Herald Sun

13 Jul
JULY 12, 2017 6:00 AM

Long-neglected art of Africa assumes its rightful place of honor at museum

Video: VICTOR EKPUK Installation of Mural at North Carolina Museum of Art!

20 Jun

Washington DC based Nigerian artist VICTOR EKPUK recently completed a mural,  Divinity, for the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC. It was part of their newly opened African art galleries. You can see a time-lapse of him creating the mural above.

To see more available works by VICTOR EKPUK, please visit his page on our website HERE or contact the gallery.

Below, you can find an article written about his installation in the Indy Week:

Victor Ekpuk’s Divine Mural at the North Carolina Museum of Art Heralds New Life for Its African Galleries

Victor Ekpuk's new mural at NCMA was commissioned to augment the museum's expanded African art gallery.

Photo by Ben McKeown

Victor Ekpuk’s new mural at NCMA was commissioned to augment the museum’s expanded African art gallery.

Ekpuk’s work covers a thirty-by-eighteen-foot wall in one of NCMA’s new African art galleries, which have been expanded in the museum’s East Building to include works from across the continent spanning sixteen centuries. Opening to the public by the end of June, the galleries will almost double the number of African works on display, including never-before-seen textiles and works on paper in light-controlled areas.

El Anatsui‘s “Lines that Link Humanity,” a quilt-like sculpture of aluminum and copper wire, hangs on a wall adjacent to Ekpuk’s work. Valises opposite the mural contain objects including a Yoruba divination board and ornately carved totems. Approaching this commission with no preconceived composition, Ekpuk sat in the space for a day considering the neighboring works before he pulled out his iPad to begin sketching.

“It’s more about the aura of the objects that were pulling me as I got closer to some of them,” Ekpuk says. “Some of them I’m familiar with. Some of them not so much. The power and aura of the objects themselves created an atmosphere where I felt a sense of divinity.”

Rendered in white chalk on a black wall, Ekpuk’s composition forms an abstracted figure wrapping long arms around the perimeter. Hundreds of signs and symbols are densely packed within the arms, which are themselves filled with little circles. The large figure has a placid, stylized face at the top, and its distended arms terminate in huge hands that gather the chaos of the symbols together.

The mural has a presence and an intricate density comparable to that of Anatsui’s sculpture. Ekpuk counts Anatsui as an elder, and they’ve shown together in a 1994 group exhibit in Lagos. Ekpuk was one of five up-and-coming Nigerian artists paired with a trio of established African artists.

The Yoruba divination board, however, inspired the mural’s form. Ekpuk talks about how a diviner shakes objects in the tray-like board in order to answer questions or make predictions by interpreting their proximities. Instead of objects, Ekpuk fills his mural with symbols that draw upon nsibidi, a Nigerian system of ideograms. But the symbols are so crowded and intertwined that any attempted reading will be foiled. It’s hard to focus on one sign to see what it might refer to or depict. Instead, one’s vision darts around and takes in the overall density.

“I know it teases your brain to think that you could read it,” Ekpuk laughs, “but it’s not writing that tells you A or B or C. I never try to analyze them or say that they are any one particular thing. I open it up so that people can just see what they see in it.” Echoing this semiotic openness, Ekpuk deflects talk of any overt political message in the work. But neither is it apolitical.

“I walked into the space and, initially, I thought, Let’s not just do another social-political thing. At the same time, I’ve found that art is always politics. Sometimes I don’t think about politics, but once I start making art, this feeling starts coming out in the work. After I made this, I thought, Oh, I’m actually responding to this siege that I feel right now in the political climate in America.'”

Ekpuk describes the composition as a divine embrace, but the arms could be read as a crowded space of containment, like a refugee camp or border wall. The empty zeros might exude the banal homogeneity of power.

Ekpuk won’t say it’s a wrong reading, just that he sees something different. He’s inclined to cede the artist’s intention by making a willfully undetermined work. He’s leaning toward leaving the mural untitled so that a visitor can react to what it is rather than what it means. [Editor’s note: Ekpuk ultimately decided to title the work “Divinity.”]

“It forces you to abandon what you know and have an opportunity to be aware of something else,” he says. “Not everything has to be explained. If you want to bring what you know, then you’re just going to hit the wall. Perhaps it’s sort of a comfort work, rather than an angry work. It’s a reminder that, whether we believe in it or not, there is a divine source of our strength. It’s beyond us.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Symbol Crash”