Tag Archives: Hood Museum of Art

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

Artwork in VICTOR EKPUK’s solo “Hip Sistas in Flux : The Visual-Lingual Braid” at Morton Fine Art

30 Apr

Sneak preview of artwork from Nigerian born artist VICTOR EKPUK’s solo exhibition “Hip Sistas in Flux : The Visual-Lingual Braid”, opening Friday May 1st at Morton Fine Art.

Where?

Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave NW (at 18th & U Sts), Washington, DC 20009

(202) 628-2787, mortonfineart@gmail.com, http://www.mortonfineart.com *Contact the gallery for available artworks*

When?

Friday, May 1st, 2015 from 6pm – 8pm

The artist will be in attendance.

All images copyright of the artist, Victor Ekpuk.

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“Auto – Graphics : Work by VICTOR EKPUK” opens at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

14 Apr

Please contact Morton Fine Art for available artworks by VICTOR EKPUK.

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

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

 

AUTO-GRAPHICS

Victor Ekpuk, Composition No. 13 (Sante Fe Suite), 2013, graphic and pastel on paper. Courtesy of the artist. © Victor Ekpuk Market Day, 2007, China marker on archival pigment print. Collection of the artist. Sanctuary, from the series Composition, 2008, graphite and pastel on paper. Collection of the artist. Santa Fe, 2013, graphite and pastel on paper. Collection of Fidelity Investments, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Works by Victor Ekpuk

April 18–August 2, 2015

Nigerian-born artist Victor Ekpuk is best known for his improvisational use of nsibidi, a form of writing with symbols associated with the powerful Ekpe men’s association of southeastern Nigeria. Ekpuk’s aesthetic engagement with nsibidi emerged during his fine art studies at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Nigeria, where students were encouraged to explore the logics of pattern and design in indigenous African art forms. His fascination with nsibidi during these years—its economy of line and encoded meanings—led to his broader explorations of drawing as writing, and to the invention of his own fluid letterforms. As a mature artist, Ekpuk has so internalized the rhythm and contours of his “script” that it flows from his hand like the outpouring of a personal archive.

This exhibition 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.

Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755
603.646.2808
hood.museum@dartmouth.edu

RELATED EVENTS

23 April, Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
MEMBER EXCLUSIVE
Tour and Lunch with Artist Victor Ekpuk
Join artist Victor Ekpuk and Curator of African Art Smooth Nzewi for an intimate look at the artist’s installation in Lathrop Gallery, followed by lunch and discussion in the conference room. Registration is required. $25.00 per person. Open to current members. To register, call (603) 646-0414 or email Julie.Ann.I.Otis@dartmouth.edu. Space is limited.

24 April, Friday, 4:30 p.m.
ARTIST LECTURE
“Excavating Memories”
Victor Ekpuk, artist
Ekpuk will discuss how he mines historical, cultural, and social memories to shape his aesthetics.

25 April, Saturday, 11:00 a.m.
Second-floor galleries
SPECIAL TOUR
Auto-Graphics: Works by Victor Ekpuk
Allyson Purpura, Curator of African Arts at the Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and curator of Auto-Graphics, will lead a tour exploring the works on view and ideas behind the exhibition.

25 April, Saturday, 1:00–2:30 p.m.
FAMILY WORKSHOP
Experimenting with Line
Explore the expressive power of Victor Ekpuk’s line in his collages, digital prints, and supersized drawings. In the studio, make large drawings filled with your own symbols and line designs. For children ages 7–12 and their adult companions. Enrollment is free, but limited. Please register through the museum’s online calendar by April 23.

29 April, Wednesday, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
ADULT WORKSHOP
The Hand-Drawn Line: Works by Victor Ekpuk
Join this discussion-based workshop to explore how Ekpuk uses rhythm, pattern, scale, composition, and the hand-drawn line to create works that are at once bold and restrained. In the studio, experiment with materials to create your own work inspired by the exhibition. No previous art experience necessary. Participation is limited. Please register through the museum’s online calendar by April 27.

16 May, Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
INTRODUCTORY TOUR
Auto-Graphics: Works by Victor Ekpuk

26 May, Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.
LUNCHTIME GALLERY TALK
“Marks and Mark-Making in Afro-diasporic Art”
Michael Chaney, Associate Professor, Vice Chair, English Department, Dartmouth College
This informal presentation links both the contemporary artwork of Victor Ekpuk and traditional ukara cloths to an unlikely analog in the hybrid production of nineteenth-century slave artisan Dave the Potter. As with the strange writing inscribed on the sides of Dave the Potter’s jars, the coded writing system known as nsibidi opens up our understanding of diasporic art and the principles of communication embodied in it.

13 June, Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
SPECIAL TOUR
Auto-Graphics: Works by Victor Ekpuk
Smooth Nzewi, Curator of African Art

16 June, Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.
LUNCHTIME GALLERY TALK
“Memory and Victor Ekpuk’s Wall Drawings”
Smooth Nzewi, Curator of African Art

VICTOR EKPUK’s solo reviewed by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi and featured in CONTEMPORARY AND

18 Sep

Composition 11, Courtesy of the Artist

Composition 11, Courtesy of the Artist

MEMORY IS CENTRAL TO VICTOR EKPUK’S ARTISTIC PRACTICE. IT ENCOMPASSES THE RECEIVED, APPROPRIATED, LIVED, AND IMAGINED.

by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi

Victor Ekpuk’s creative process involves moments of quietude in which he digs studiously into his memory bank for visual clarity. The calm search for acuity, very revealing of the artist’s interest in human experiences, frames Reminiscences and Current Musings. In a way, this solo effort is a retrospective because it draws from several bodies of work produced by the artist between 1996 and 2013. The 20 works in the exhibition represent the artist’s meditations on his social experiences, drawing from Nigeria and the United States, his country of birth and residency respectively, and, as with most contemporary artists, other worlds that he has experienced in the course of several international artists residencies and exhibitions in the last few years.

Memory is central to Ekpuk’s artistic practice. It encompasses the received, appropriated, lived, and imagined. It can be attached to a particular place to invoke Pierre Nora’s notion of Lieux de Mémoire [1], or a social experience that is conceptually articulated without claims to spatial specificity or a tangible context. Nora’s Lieux de Mémoire monumentalizes collective memory by rooting it in the concrete, in spaces, in gestures, objects, and images. Yet for Ekpuk, memory is a metaphor for unloading a stream of consciousness that is tied to either a specified or an unspecified social space. It is also a state of being; a meditative process of creative remembering of the personal and the collective.

Using invented scripts and imageries that evolved from the cryptic nsibidi writing system that is autochthonous to eastern Nigeria, Ekpuk translates the human experience both transparently and symbolically. It is no secret that the nsibidi ideographic forms now function as a conceptual backdrop for him. Earlier on, he drew extensively from the writing system, as is evident in the paintings: The Three Wise Men (triptych, acrylic on panel, 1996), Heaven’s Gate (acrylic on prayer board, 2000), and Idaresit (acrylic on canvas, 2004). At that point, Ekpuk was more interested in aesthetic memory, the idea that one can subject a common cultural wellspring to rigorous formal analysis in order to create new aesthetic possibilities. Except one has some familiarity with the nsibidi form, the three works are open to multiple interpretations. They present what the art historian Chike Aniakor calls the “veiling of message [as being] the fortress of the artistic impulse.”[2]  The works may have specific messages, but they are not directly accessible and require the artist’s intervention in order to unlock them.

Three Wise Men, Courtesy of the Artist

Three Wise Men, Courtesy of the Artist

 

Ekpuk has however become adept at inventing his own scripts, which may appear weighty in appearance, but are unburdened with fixed meaning. Unlike the nsibidi ideograms, Ekpuk’s inventions bear no deep secrets. Instead, they are outlets through which he articulates his perception of the world around him. In the artist’s oeuvre, his scripts recur in the form of dots, scrawls, contrived signs that are sometimes borrowed from pop culture, and few nsibidi signs which he employs more for their aesthetic value than for their significance. In 2006, Ekpuk had shifted his interest to drawing as his main channel of expression at the expense of painting in order to explore more vigorously the aesthetics of graphic signs as abstract forms. Altogether his scripts provide insights into a world of the artist’s making, a world that straddles the experienced and the imagined.

Recent works such as Bicycle Groove (2012) and Santa Fe Sunset (from the Santa Fe Suite Series, 2013) directly address the artist’s time in Amsterdam, and Santa Fe, respectively. In the two works, Ekpuk adopts visual referents that lend themselves to fairly easy reading. Bicycle Groove explores a socio-cultural phenomenon of a place that the artist has experienced. In the piece in graphite and acrylic on Moulin de Larroque paper, a diagrammatic wheel stands as an avatar of Amsterdam, a city famed for its cycling culture. Ekpuk astutely assembles rudimentary forms and lines on the picture surface. He is effective in conveying his experience of Amsterdam without overloading the work. The work is also a balancing act in the use of negative and positive spaces and in the reduction of forms to their barest essentials, very much present in the artist’s other works.

Ekpuk’s approach, which also highlights the innate and poetic quality of lines, allows him to maintain an ambivalence of engaging memory directly and symbolically. Santa Fe Sunset, produced in a recent artist residency in New Mexico, reflects this ambivalence. The element that immediately captures the viewer’s attention in the work is the splotch of orange acrylic, painted atop graphic inscriptions, in the center of the picture surface. This layer of paint is representational. As the work’s title suggests, it is the setting sun. The translucent quality of the orange sun allows the viewer to see through to the ink scripts, which also surround the sun. The symbolic scripts can thus be interpreted as visual translations of Ekpuk’s memory of Santa Fe.

The artist makes use of centralizing symbols in several works, including Memories at Hand (2013), The Traveler (2012) and Take 5 (2013), to subtly direct viewers’ interpretations of his art. He is also adroit in the use of contrast of colors and black graphite or ink in Composition No. 11 (2012), The Thinker (2012), and Indigo Girl(2013). This interplay imbues the works with balance, rhythm, and a sensuous quality that is visually attractive yet uncanny. Composition No. 11 is also a very successful attempt by the artist in focusing solely on the abstract qualities of graphic forms. Although works such as Memories at Hand (2013) and The Traveler (2012) are highly symbolic, the key elements in the two works — schematized hand and feet, respectively — bear decipherable messages. State of Being (2012) and Meditations of Memory (2012) address those moments of introspection by the artist as he searched for visual eloquence. Both works also explore Ekpuk’s experience of straddling several cultures.

Take 5, Courtesy of the Artist

Take 5, Courtesy of the Artist

 

In all, the works are several bodies of interconnected ideas that fit perfectly into an overarching artistic vision from nearly two decades. They represent Ekpuk’s attempt to translate his experiences and the larger human experience, bearing the burden of contemplation, history, and contemporaneity.

 

Victor Ekpuk: Reminiscences & Current Musings, a solo exhibition at Morton Fine Art (MFA), in Washington DC,  features selected works by the artist Victor Ekpuk, produced from 1996-2013.  13 September – 8 October 2013. Artist Talk: 28 September, 2013. 

 

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (Nigeria, lives in USA) is an artist, curator, and art historian. He is a Smithsonian Institution Fellow and was recently appointed as the curator of African Art at the Hood Museum Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA. Nzewi was also recently appointed as one of the curators of the Dak’Art 2014.

 

References

[1] Pierre Nora (ed.), Les Lieux de Mémoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1984).

[2] Chika Aniakor, “AKA: The Conquests of An Artistic Vision,” AKA 89 [4thannual exhibition catalogue] (Enugu: AKA, 1989), 8.

 

Link to the article in full:  http://www.contemporaryand.com/blog/magazines/memory-is-central-to-victor-ekpuks-artistic-practice-it-encompasses-the-received-appropriated-lived-and-imagined/