Tag Archives: Contemporary Nigerian Art

VICTOR EKPUK in The Memphis Daily News

14 Mar

African Art Begins Transition at Brooks Museum

By Bill Dries

For many visitors to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the museum’s African art collection has been a modest display of traditional African art symbolized by a grouping of large masks on a plain wall.

Victor Ekpuk is creating a 58-foot-long mural at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art over the next two weeks as the centerpiece of a newly configured African arts exhibit area. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

That began to change this week with the creation of a 58-foot-long mural by Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk on the once-unadorned wall.

When Ekpuk completes the mural in about two weeks, the rest of the African art area will be on its way to a much different look as well.

“We’re trying to help people understand that art in Africa – while there is this long tradition of it, there are also many contemporary artists who are part of the international art scene,” said Marina Pacini, the Brooks’ chief curator. “They are making work that may reference traditional African art but that has a contemporary life of its own that is not necessarily part of its trajectory.”

Ekpuk worked on the intricate blend of African art imagery and Memphis themes with a pair of headphones on Wednesday morning. As he worked, he was listening to the music of Ali Farka Toure, the late Malian singer and musician known for his work at the intersection of traditional Malian music and North American blues.

Ekpuk is expecting more company Saturday as those coming to the museum’s Chalkfest also will be coming inside the museum to get a look at the work in progress. Ekpuk, too, works in chalk and pastels.

His work is called “Drawing Memory” and is part of a series of works he’s done in different places.

“The whole idea of memory – my notion of memory – is that it’s a very ephemeral condition, a human condition,” said Ekpuk, who uses chalk with the idea that it will all be wiped away at some point. “It continues to change and to be affected by circumstances.”

The mural for the Brooks is somewhere between ephemeral and permanent, with about a five-year life.

“It’s not completely ephemeral,” Ekpuk said with a chuckle against a backdrop of symbols and words on a white surface – some mysterious, some familiar, depending on who is taking in the still-forming piece.

And there is Ekpuk’s perspective.

“I was born in Nigeria; I’m an American citizen,” he said. “My memories of where I was born and where I am now is all in flux. It’s affected by circumstances. I decided to make this work to portray the essence of Memphis as I see it being here and through historical context.”

So amidst the imagery you will see the words “I Am a Man,” but “I Am” is separated from the rest of the slogan from the 1968 sanitation workers strike. And “I Am” is a phrase that appears in Ekpuk’s earlier works with specific glyphs. Dots on the Memphis mural might be cotton, and multicolored waves at the bottom might symbolize a river. There could be the body of a guitar in the center.

Ekpuk doesn’t interpret anything in talking about his work. And he cautions against picking out phrases or symbols. In his works, drawing becomes writing and writing becomes drawing. He refers to his drawing as an “independent genre” as opposed to a support for painting. Ekpuk is also a painter.

“My work is generally inspired by African aesthetics,” he said. “That means that I study some of the objects that will be here and the whole aesthetic of what you will be seeing in the African gallery. I study the form … and I reimagine them my own way in my drawings.”

Those items will not necessarily be the same ones museum patrons have seen in the past.

The museum is working with Christa Clarke, the senior curator of Arts of Africa at the Newark Museum in New Jersey.

“They have a vast collection of superb African objects,” Pacini said of the Newark Museum. “She’s going to assemble a small exhibition for us from their collection using a few objects from our collection.”

Some of Ekpuk’s works are in the Newark Museum as well as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and The World Bank.

His Memphis mural will stand as the centerpiece for an effort that has an ambitious goal in limited space and limited items. While Ekpuk is thinking about the items to come as he creates the mural, the items the museum is considering for the space are being selected with his style and imagery in mind.

“How do you in a small space like this convey African art?” Pacini asked. “You can’t. It’s a large continent with many countries and many different styles. He’s going to produce something that asks some meaningful questions about bigger pictures that apply across the continent to give people ways to think about African art.”

Click this link to view available artwork by VICTOR EKPUK:

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VICTOR EKPUK Featured on Konbini.com!!

7 Feb

Victor Ekpuk Perfectly Blends Writing And Painting Into Vibrant Art

Nigeria-born Washington-based contemporary artist, Victor Ekpuk, creates breathtakingly vibrant pieces which seamlessly merge the art of writing and painting.

His work, which began as an exploration of Nsibidi  – a centuries-old Nigerian system of writing that uses symbols instead of words or sounds – has now evolved into an exploration of the human condition.

ekpuk-big-fat-hen-lagos

Victor Ekpuk (Photo Tom Saarta )

Victor Ekpuk (Photo Mabeye Deme)

The aesthetic philosophy of Nsibidi, where simple signs convey complex ideas, led Ekpuk to further explore the art of drawing as a form of communication. It also led Ekpuk to invent his own hieroglyphic symbols.

Speaking about the themes of his work on his website, Ekpuk said:

“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.”

Check out the rest of his work on his website and his Instagram.

ekpuk-dis-is-lagos-lagos-suites

(Photo Victor Ekpuk)

ekpuk-head-6

(Photo Victor Ekpuk)

ekpuk-head-3

(Photo Victor Ekpuk)

ekpuk-head-2

(Photo Victor Ekpuk)

ekpuk-returnee

(Photo Victor Ekpuk)

ekpuk-head-8

(Photo Victor Ekpuk)

VICTOR EKPUK at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College

6 Sep
 

 

 

ekpuk-ephemeral-cuba

Ekpuk creating a wall drawing “Meditations on Memory” at the 2015 Havana biennale, Cuba.

Victor Ekpuk at the Tang Museum

September14th, 2016 – Artist Victor Ekpuk will create a new wall drawing at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College as part of the exhibition  “Sixfold Symmetry: Pattern in Art and Science.”

LECTURES AND CONVERSATIONS
Victor Ekpuk and Lisa Aronson, “Sixfold Symmetry”: 
4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. A “Dunkerley Dialogue” with artist Victor Ekpuk and Skidmore professor emeritus Lisa Aronson discussing Ekpuk’s large-scale wall drawing.

Venue:
The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College
815 North Broadway
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Phone: 518-580-8080

For more information at https://www.tang.skidmore.edu/

 

Click HERE to view available artwork by VICTOR EKPUK.

OSI AUDU in ArtDaily

19 Jan
Exhibition of recent drawings by Osi Audu opens at Skoto Gallery

Self-Portrait No 1, 2016, graphite and pastel on paper mounted on canvas, 56 x 72 ins. Courtesy Skoto Gallery.

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NEW YORK, NY.- Skoto Gallery presents New Portraits: Self in the Global Age, an exhibition of recent drawings by Osi Audu. Born in Nigeria, the artist was educated in that country and the United States. For over two decades now, he has maintained a strong professional presence in Korea, Japan, Great Britain, United States, Italy, Germany, Austria and Africa through highly acclaimed exhibitions of his paintings. His work is in several private and public collections including The British Museum; The Horniman Museum, London; Schmidt Bank, Bayreuth, Germany; The Iwalewa House, Germany, The Wellcome Trust Collection, London, The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC and Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey. His work was included in the recently concluded 2015 Venice Biennale, in the collateral event exhibition – Frontiers Re-imagined at the Palazzo Grimani Museum in Venice.

This is his third solo exhibition at the gallery. The reception is on Thursday, January 14th, 6-8pm. The artist will be present.

Of Selfies and Shadow play: Osi Audu’s Self-Portrait
Osi Audu has the astute ability to break down complex ideas into simplified, visually appealing compositions. He has developed a unique vocabulary that emphasizes geometry, volume, tactility, and quality of the tromp l’oeil, in a career that spans nearly thirty years. Though on flat surface, his work appears three-dimensional. Solid black forms dominate the center of the picture plane. Some cast reverent shadows that taper to the edges of the paper or canvas. With voluminous architectural shapes composed of different parts but bound seamlessly by slick white lines in the new Self-Portrait series, Audu stretches the boundaries of abstraction, teasing the imagination. There is clarity of form that immediately casts a spell on the viewer. Yet Audu’s work does not give in to pedestrian interpretation. One must first acquaint oneself with the philosophy that informs his creative disposition in order to have a more meaningful encounter with the body of work. Though minimalist abstraction is a principal motivation, it is not abstraction for mere sake nor is the dualism (solids and shadows, black and grey) that is apparent in his oeuvre a mere visual device or creative flair. Both are conceptual armatures that help to advance an artistic position and the culturally-derived epistemology that grounds his work.

Audu’s aesthetics draws specifically upon the Yoruba ontology of dual consciousness centered on the human head. The head (ori) is a bifurcated ensemble that best represents the intertwining of spirit and matter, mind and body. Orí inú (invisible or inner head) is the locus of consciousness, an a priori that gives substance to being. Orí òde (outer or tangible head), the physical manifestation of consciousness, is a vehicle of perception, identity, and interaction with reality. It is this dialogic imagining of beingness, of the human self, that Audu translates on white paper and canvas, using black pastel, graphite, primary colors, wool, among other media. His use of black monochrome holds pertinent symbolic value. It ramifies the cultural vicissitudes of blackness as well as outlines Audu’s position of engagement in an art world that is burdened by a historical legacy of excluding or de-legitimizing black artists who claim the arcane language of abstraction.

In previous solo exhibitions at Skoto Gallery such as Osi Audu: Ile Ori/Ori Ile (House of the Head/Head of the House) in 2006, the head is addressed as a metaphor of collective consciousness. Audu explores the head as a cognitive altar that dictates the cycle of life and human responses to existential conditions. Conversely, the current exhibition titled New Portraits: Self in the Global Age focuses on the autonomous self, shifting emphasis from collective consciousness to the singular being as unit of sensation. It comprises of eighteen works from the ongoing Self-Portrait series. They push Audu’s fastidious formalism, complex forms, and geometric abstraction further albeit in a different direction. Conceptually, one might speak of them as selfies, those totems that feed the narcissist cult of the individual, very symptomatic of our contemporary world.

Yet we are admonished not to think of the works as portraits in a physiognomic sense. Instead, they are reflections on the ways in which the individual negotiates his/her being in the world. Following Maurice Merleau-Ponty, they are the artist’s attempts to distill perception, by relating and piecing together the spectacles of his own world in relation to the world at large. It is the interior-self that forms the basis of rootedness; the source of identity and personhood. As such, Audu casts his gaze inward, to his Orí inú, the seat of consciousness where memories also reside; reconciling it with his Orí òde, the vessel that bears out his past and present experiences, of growing up and studying in Nigeria, living in the United Kingdom, and current domicile in New York. Altogether, the works capture Audu’s attempt to find himself in a teleological world that is mediated by relations. Ultimately, what lies at the core of this new body of work is a phenomenological awareness of being part of a globalized reality, marked by changing conditions, cultural exchanges on a planetary scale, and a network of disjunctive and constitutive references.

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi
Artist, Art Historian, and Curator of African Art
Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

VICTOR EKPUK’s Manuscript Series in the permanent collection of the Newark Museum

10 Sep

ekpku should the moon meet us apart

 

“Should the Moon Meet Us Apart, May the Sun Find Us Together”, 2000.

Acrylic and copper wire on prayer boards.

Gift of Prof. Simon Ottenberg to the permanent collection of Newark Museum.

 

About The Manuscript Series:

My continuous search for indigenous codes and forms to tell visual stories led me to the discovery of Islamic prayer boards (walaha). The first idea to use walaha as an art medium first struck me in 1995, at a market in Jos, Nigeria, where I saw unused boards on display for sale.

I was attracted to their unique shapes, I was also fascinated by the ingenuity of African aesthetics and how it added meaning to Arabic scripts; I began to see how these boards could tell other stories and bear other meanings. My vision of the potential of the board as a bearer of two important elements of African spirituality and literacy was so strong that, I could not get it out of my head until it was realized. Works in this series are called “Manuscript Series”

“Manuscript Series”, though executed on walaha do not make statements about Islam; rather they are an intercultural marriage of form and script. Instead of Arabic scripts, I employ Nsibidi signs and my own script-like drawings to make compositions with themes that center  on the human conditions of joy, pain and hope.

I try to manipulate the materials so the mystical essence of the board and that of Nsibidi signs are retained. The goal being to create contemporary sacred tablets whose verses tell our stories, hold our prayers and perhaps provide healing and inspiration to us.

-Victor Ekpuk

Visit Morton Fine Art for available artworks by VICTOR EKPUK.

http://www.mortonfineart.com

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

(202) 628-2787

mortonfineart@gmail.com

 

VICTOR EKPUK interviewed in Hood Museum of Art “Quarterly” Dartmouth College

23 Jun

Victor Ekpuk-Hood Museum Quarterly

 

A Conversation with Victor Ekpuk

Victor Ekpuk’s ephemeral wall drawings demonstrate the artist’s site-specific adaptation of his drawing approach to architectural working surfaces. Created without preliminary sketches or pre-formed ideas, the murals emerge out of the physical spaces they ultimately occupy, functioning much like the symbolic forms that mark sacred spaces and shrine walls in traditional societies in Africa. In this interview conducted in advance of his visit to Dartmouth, Ekpuk discusses his wall drawings with Curator of African Art Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi.

Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi (SN): We are very happy to have your exhibition Auto-Graphics on view at the Hood. We are even more excited that you are creating a wall drawing—the largest of your wall drawings to date— in Lathrop Gallery in conjunction with this exhibition. It is my understanding that it was the context of an earlier exhibition in Amsterdam that sparked what has become a critical aspect of your practice, the ephemeral wall drawings. Can you talk about this experience?

Victor Ekpuk (VE): During a 2008 artist-in-residency program at Thami Mnyele Foundation in the Netherlands, I was invited to participate in an exhibition to mark the launching of ZAM magazine. The exhibition included works of celebrated South African artist Marlene Dumas as well as other artists and poets from Africa. I proposed to do a mural drawing based on the memory of my life in the Netherlands. Amsterdam Central was an encapsulation of my experience as a transient visitor there. I was intrigued by the idea that the drawing that I would spend several hours making on a gallery wall would eventually be erased to make space for another artwork. I saw this as a metaphor for life itself. The knowledge that I exist at one moment in time only to exit for something else to fill the space that I once occupied was a very humbling realization. On one level, Amsterdam Central was just an expression of the essence of the Netherlands from my perspective as a visitor. On another, I was probing an inner dialogue with existential reality.

SN: Memory is central to your practice and even more fundamental to your wall drawings, which is why you call them “drawing memories.” You have framed memory as received, imagined, transposed, and appropriated. Why does memory hold such fascination for you?

VE: I believe that our self-consciousness is borne from memory. Through self consciousness we form our identities. I observe identity as an ephemeral condition that is always in flux. As you rightly noted, memories are constantly being imagined, transposed, and appropriated. So in “drawing memories,” I am trying to capture these various selves in my stream of consciousness. I am very intrigued by the realization that essentially we are all a sum of different parts that are shaped by circumstances. There is always recognition of some personal memory in the collective. Because it is, after all, a human story. Some these memories are what have shaped my life or the lives of people I have come in contact with.

SN: You once told me that your creative process involves moments of quietude in which you dig deep into your memory bank for visual clarity and intellectual materials to work with. How does the creative process involved in the making of the wall drawings differ from your regular studio process?

VE: The process for drawing on the wall differs, in some ways, from studio practice because I prefer it to be spontaneous. I usually prefer not to think about what I am going to draw until I am in the space, at which time I let the space and what I feel at that moment determine what direction the composition will take.

SN: Your wall drawings do not exactly present cohesive narratives or offer formal points of entry for the viewer, although one must admit that there is a logic to the way you amass the script like symbols on the wall surface. Is that a reflection of your understanding of the way memory works?

VE: While drawing, my hand responds to a stream of consciousness, a flow of images from my mind. During this instant I let go and lose myself in the moment. Yes, in a way that’s how our conscious minds work: we exercise our abilities to sift through memories and focus on those that are relevant to immediate attention.

SN: You have also described your wall drawings as performance. Is this because you draw upon nsibidi, the autochthonous body of symbols used in visual and gestured communication by the Ekpe secret society in southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon?

VE: Yes, the performative and the ephemeral aesthetics of nsibidi remain strong influences on my artistic process and production. In the outward display of knowledge, members of the secret society that practice nsibidi usually engage in “mbre,” meaning play of nsibidi. It involves challenging one another to decipher coded graphic signs that are marked on the ground. In other instances, nsibidi signs are used as coded messages, marked either on the ground or on objects, and sometimes as arrangements of objects. It is worth noting that in all of these instances, the signs are always ephemeral. They are often wiped off once the play is over or the message has been received.

SN: Although nsibidi was a point of departure for you at the beginning of your practice, to what extent do you still rely on its repertoire of pictographic and ideographic scripts in your wall drawings?

VE: I’ve found myself using less of nsibidi in my work in general. Having imbibed the nsibidi aesthetic philosophy of focusing on the essence of form or thought to communicate ideas, application of this principle comes in very handy when I approach a composition or design idea. As a means to fully engage this aesthetic philosophy, I made the series of large drawings called Composition Series, which are on view as part of Auto-Graphics, where I explored nsibidi symbols not for their meaning but for their aesthetics and abstract forms.

SN: How many of these wall drawings have you made and how do they differ from each other?

VE: Starting from my first drawing in Amsterdam in 2008 to what I will create at the Hood Museum of Art, I will have made six wall drawings in all. Mickey on Broadway, my second mural, was created in a Washington, D.C., gallery in 2011. It considered my identity as both African and American. It was partly mixed media, and included five Mickey Mouse–shaped plastic bowls placed above African-inspired forms. Meditations on Memories, also created in a gallery in 2011, was more abstract and contemplative. It was the first time I worked strictly with white chalk on a black wall. This was also the first time I was actively involved in the erasure of my wall drawing. In other works—such as Drawing Memories at Appalachian State University in 2013, and an untitled drawing at Krannert Art Museum and Ode to Joy at Arkansas Art Center, both in 2014—I was more interested in capturing the intrinsic aesthetics of objects and forms. Ode to Joy, a dialogue with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, was my first attempt at drawing music. With headphones on my ears, I attempted to translate the imagery formed from the elation I felt. I was like the conductor of an orchestra, enthralled in raptures of violins, kettledrums, cellos, trumpets, cymbals, and the roaring voices in harmonious chants as the crescendos built and ecstasies exploded in my heart.

The exhibition Auto-Graphics: Works by Victor Ekpuk, on view through August 2, was organized by Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and curated by Allyson Purpura. It was partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. The exhibition’s presentation at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, was generously supported by the Leon C. 1927, Charles L. 1955, and Andrew J. 1984 Greenebaum Fund and the Cissy Patterson Fund

 

Please contact Morton Fine Art for a pdf version of this interview or click the following link: http://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/docs/2015summerquarterlywebready.pdf

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

(202) 628-2787, mortonfineart@gmail.com, http://www.mortonfineart.com

VICTOR EKPUK’s solo “Hip Sistas in Flux : The Visual – Lingual Braid” in Washington Post

16 May
May 15 at 1:13 PM
Victor Ekpuk

Writing and painting merge in the art of Victor Ekpuk, whose bold work employs symbols from Nsibidi, a West African ideographic system. This is a familiar aspect of the Nigeria-born Washingtonian’s style, but in Morton Fine Art’s “Hip Sistas in Flux: The Visual-Lingual Braid” the text represents both contemporary modes and cultural heritage. The glyphs decorate bodies as well as backgrounds, suggesting African-inspired fabrics but also jewelry and piercings, tattoos and scarification.
Ekpuk often uses a dense field of black-on-white symbols to frame a person or object that’s in color. Of these archetypal portraits, however, only “Asian Uboikpa (Hip Sista) Series #6” is rendered in black, and it’s garnished with red and blue dots at the center. The other paintings are even brighter, often outlining a woman’s head and torso in a lighter hue than the backdrop. Sista #11, for example, uses thickly applied yellow atop a green and blue matrix. The vivid colors suit the primal images; these female exemplars are nothing if not robust.

Victor Ekpuk — Hip Sistas in Flux: The Visual-Lingual Braid On view through May 21 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. http://www.mortonfineart.com.