Presenting Victor Ehikhamenor’s luscious demons: Amusing the Muse – April 29 – May 31 2013

(Lagos, April 21, 2013) Temple Muse is proud to present Amusing the Muse, an art exhibition of recent drawings and paintings by Victor Ehikhamenor, one of Nigeria’s most progressive contemporary artists, who is also a celebrated writer and photographer.

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Victor’s unique calligraphic style of black and white symbolic images presents  a fresh perspective on contemporary African art.  His style is influenced by the drawings he grew up with on the walls of sacred spaces in Udomi-Uwessan, Edo State, Nigeria. Over the years, we have seen his bold symbols encased in doors and window frames as in his Entrances and Exits series, or literally bouncing “off and through” vibrant, multi-layered, colorful paintings. His sculptures of repurposed mundane objects like old typewriters and generators are often thought provoking socio-political critiques, while his video art installations have seen art enthusiasts curiously intent on watching how he transforms blank spaces by completely covering them in a proliferation of symbols to become cocoons of fantastical imagery.

In Amusing the Muse, Victor presents an exciting new dimension to his art with his “Paintforation” technique that uses nail perforations on thick white handmade paper to create subtle relief work —  a new take on his popular face series. He explains that he has translated ancient rituals of body scarification evident in 16th and 17th century Nigerian bronze heads into his contemporary masks. But whether through his perforated “White Mask”, or his bold ink-color faces in which he uses symbols as highlights, almost like thoughts flitting across their minds, Victor’s art continues to tease and beckon.

”The face phenomenon dawned on me during the Occupy Nigeria protests, while I was photographing people,” explains Victor, who has a first degree in English Literature from Ambrose Ali University in Ekpoma, Nigeria, and two masters degrees in fine arts (creative writing) and technology management from the University of Maryland at College Park, USA. “I realized what really formed the mass of differences are the faces. People live and die by the look and shape of their faces. I believe faces define humanity. The face is the GUI (graphical user interface) of the brain.”

In three large canvas wall hangings spanning over 5 meters in length or width, Victor presents lone human forms completely engulfed in landscapes of symbols. “As a figurative-abstractionist I hate taming my style. I have started working on very large pieces, using charcoal on canvas. These works are stories and histories, myths and mythologies, tales and folktales, beliefs and disbeliefs, ” he explains standing in front of a work entitled Adam & Eve waiting for a flight out of Eden, an over 6 meter wide wall hanging,  which is his visual representation of  the entire book of Genesis told “in one fell swoop”.

Amusing the Muse is presented by Temple Muse, Nigeria’s foremost luxury design and lifestyle space, which may be one of Lagos’ best kept secrets. Temple Muse has been active in the highly competitive African design and fashion space since 2008.  It has established a quiet reputation of presenting cutting edge Nigerian fashion brands such as Tiffany Amber, LDA, Iconic Invanity and Ituen Basi, alongside global brands such as Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, and Matthew Williamson. Temple Muse has also taken part in internationally celebrated fashion fiestas such as Arise Fashion Week, Elite Model Look, as well as many other collaborations within Nigeria.

“In an effort to broaden our support of cutting edge Nigerian creativity, Temple Muse is starting specially curated art shows showcasing the hottest Nigerian visual artists in our pure white design space, ” explained the Creative Director of Temple Muse. “Victor Ehikahmenor’s exquisite and quirky drawings and paintings are the start of a dynamic synergy between contemporary art fusing with avant garde design and fashion.”

The show is curated by Sandra Mbanefo Obiago and is supported by Veuve Clicquot. It is open to the public from April 29th to May 31st, 2013.

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Curatorial Statement: Sandra Mbanefo Obiago – Musing on Multiple Levels

Amusing the Muse, is a show of recent works by Victor Ehikhamenor, one of Nigeria’s most progressive contemporary artists. In describing Victor’s expressive energy, one must be willing to watch him perform on diverse creative platforms that reflect his unique perspective through paintings, photography, sculpture, mixed media works, graphic design, and writing.

I met Victor in 2008 when he returned to Nigeria from the United States to become the creative director of 234NEXT newspaper. What was immediately evident was that the pioneer NEXT team that brought us fresh investigative news and analysis were young Nigerians who were intent on breaking the cycle of conformism. Victor’s editorial and creative edge quickly attracted attention and had us watching him with keen interest as he impressed us with both his journalistic and artistic dexterity. His signature slogan Stand up, Stand out! encapsulates Victor’s aim to infuse his work with life changing dynamism.

Victor’s unique calligraphic style of black and white are symbolic images drawn deeply from his roots. His style is influenced by the drawings he grew up with on the walls of sacred spaces in Udomi-Uwessan, Edo State, Nigeria. Over the years, we have seen these bold symbols encased in doors and window frames as in his Entrances and Exits series, or created as black and white charcoal drawings, as well as literally bouncing “off and through” vibrant, multi-layered, colorful paintings and thought-provoking sculptures of repurposed mundane objects like old typewriters and generators. His video art installations have seen us curiously intent on watching how he transforms blank spaces by completely covering them in a proliferation of symbols to become cocoons of fantastical imagery.

In this exhibition, Victor shows us an exciting new dimension with his “Paintforation” technique that uses nail-like perforations on thick white handmade paper to create subtle relief work —  a new take on his popular face series. He explains that he has translated ancient rituals of body scarification evident in 16th and 17th century Nigerian bronze heads into his contemporary masks. But whether through his perforated “White Mask”, or his bold ink-color faces in which he uses symbols as highlights, almost like thoughts flitting across their minds, Victor’s art continues to tease and beckon.

I am particularly excited about how Victor’s recent works bring a new energy into the pure white design space of Temple Muse, Nigeria’s foremost lifestyle platform. His extra large charcoal on canvas drawings with human forms engulfed in a sea of symbols, are on the scale of pieces that were created for high vaulted international art galleries. These wall hangings bring an incredible energy and vibrancy to Temple Muse, known for its high end local and international luxury brands. What we have here is a synergy of contemporary art meeting bold and zesty design and fashion.

I hope you enjoy Amusing the Muse, Temple Muse’s first of many specially curated art exhibitions that will bring you some of Nigeria’s quirkiest new trends in cutting edge contemporary art.

Sandra Mbanefo Obiago


Lagos, April 2013

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Emmanuel Iduma: In Conversation with Victor Ehikhamenor

EI: To start with, was your process for this body of work, in terms of materials and concept, different from other projects you have worked on?
VE: Not drastically different but I always push myself to see how my materials will react to the concept I want to execute. I like surprising myself and my viewers. I also strive not to bore my collectors.

EI: Why did you choose “Amusing the Muse” as title for this show?
VE:  Often times the muse amuse me, it is my turn to amuse the muse too by deviating a bit from what she wants me to do. It sounds cheeky, but trust me it is the truth. However it a tribute to that muse, not necessarily in the visual rendition but in the titles of the works. Some of the titles are serious, but hilarious at the same time. It’s a fun show for me.

EI: In a number of the pieces, there is a splashy quality to the way colours are used. Is this deliberate? Was there something you were trying to achieve?
VE: [Laughs] I guess what you see as splashy is what others may see as the energy with which the works were executed. Those particular “splashy” paintings were done furiously as though someone set my brains on fire and I had stamp out the furnace furiously. As a figurative-abstractionist I hate taming my style. Sometimes I do not control colour runs, I let things take their own live paths. But there is sanity in the madness of it all.

EI: You have always tried to break conventions in your work. In this show for instance, there are a number of works where there is a conscious attempt to introduce new techniques in using paper. Was this an important aspect of this work and what are the challenges so far?
VE: I like experiment and tinkering with the norm. I believe what you are referring to are the ones I call “paintforation” (Painting by perforation). Every so often, I look at African “traditional” art, and see what my ancestors had done well and I usually borrow from that. As you may well know, my entire style as an artist is based on the ancestral shrine wall designs in my village. I consumed a lot of the stylistics as a kid and I have stretched that experience as an adult. Coming back to paintforation, when you look at some Benin or Ife masks, you would see tiny holes in the works, a form of perforation in rendering but on harder surfaces like wood, bronze or metal. Many old Oshogbo artists also perforated metal sheet to form art. I want to explore that tradition on handmade papers which I have just started to do here. The only small challenge I am facing so far is the lack of handmade papers in Nigeria art stores. So far I have to import or buy them whenever I travel out of the country.

EI: If you don’t mind, can you add a few more comments on “White Mask”?
VE: White Mask is the very first piece I did in the style of paintforation. It’s a tedious process; it requires punching a lot of holes to make any meaningful pattern. White Mask is commenting on the histo-sociological idea of masks only being associated with “blackness”. It is also interesting to know that I have come across some Africans or even African Americans who desperately want to be white by constantly wearing that invisible yet vicinal white mask. So we can say I am subtly visualizing Frantz Fanon’s idea in his book, “Black Skin, White Masks.”

EI: One of the works that stand out – perhaps because of its size – is “Adam and Eve Waiting for A Flight Out of Eden.” Did you find it easy, or difficult, maybe even exhilarating, while you worked on it, especially because it seems to be imbued with so much detail?

It’s also a new dimension in my work, size wise. You can say it is a “size” of things to come. I have started working on very large pieces, using charcoal on canvas. These works are stories and histories, myths and mythologies, tales and folktales, beliefs and disbeliefs. This particular one is based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve and all that surrounds them before they departed the Garden of Eden. The work is the entire book of Genesis told in one full swoop.

VE: “Faces” continue to dominate your work, whether as paintings or drawings. Is there any reason why you have been fascinated by visages?
EI: Let’s call it my “faces phase,” like Picasso’s blue phase. Face is the oldest and still the most used form for human recognition. In a crowded place, it’s mostly faces you would really see. This face phenomenon dawned on me during the Occupy Nigeria protests, I was photographing people but realized what really formed the mass of differences are the faces. People live and die by the look and shape of their faces during wars. He is Gikuyu, she kikuyu, he is Igbo, she is Hausa, he is from the Congo, she is Ghanaian; we can throw such statements and mostly be right by one look at our subject’s facial features. Your face is also the most important part of your identity in a travelling document such as international passport. I believe faces define humanity. You can read emotions such as joy, happiness, sadness, love, hate – only on a face. You hear phrases like “Hide your face in shame”, “Your face look familiar”. The face is the GUI of the brain, period. Yes, you will always find faces in my paintings and drawings.

EI: Can you speak a little about viewer responses to your work, especially since you started showing in Nigeria after a long absence?
VE: I never showed in Nigeria before I left. However, it has been encouraging is all I can tell you.

EI: What are your expectations for the reception of this work?
VE: I hope the viewers’ find something interesting and educating to take away, something transient yet transcendent beyond the colours and shapes of my paintings.

EI: Did you draw strength from the work of any other artist while working on this show?
VE: The works of our greatly talented ancestors always come in handy. But you have to realize there are so many artists who are doing great things within and outside the country, and I draw a lot of energy from them. A few of the most engaging Nigerian artists today are my close friend, our pulsating discussions outside the studio space fuel me when I am in my studio.

VE – Victor Ehikhamenor | EI – Emmanuel Iduma

 Emmanuel Iduma is the author of Farad, a novel (Parresia Publishers, 2012). He trained as a Lawyer, and works as a writer, critic and manager of creative projects in Lagos.

for more information please contact:, 08034021901

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Ominira’s room

Memories of my past, harried dad chasing after you, little one, you with the two teeth, come rushing at me in the cold bluster of England’s faux indifference. How are you, princess? Miss me, do you?

I step into Ominira’s room. It is a mess. She won’t clean her room, this princess of ours. We have tried everything, nothing works. She stands there, dreaming, like me her father, dreaming into space, traveling a world alien to us. We are tired of screaming at her. She is tired of screaming at us. Nothing works. Ominira’s room. It is a pretty room. If only she would clean it. It is a pretty room made for little girls who have no care in the world. There are pink colors everywhere. I pick up her things from the floor .Lots of things.  She is standing there in the middle of her mess with eyes that ruin a father’s resolve. She stares at me, the beginning of defiance and tears welling up in her eyes. The dam of tears will break without fail once the scream-fest begins. I have no screams in me this morning. Wordlessly I begin to clean the room. Relieved, she flees the room, to go stare at the world through the computers that litter the house. She has won this battle. Again.

 I pick up her things, she has too much. And she has forgotten what she has. Because she has too much I retrieve a video game console from deep within Christmas wrappings shredded by feverish little hands. She wanted that hardware so badly. And she stayed at the foot of our bed, begging until we gave in. There are pretty little dresses with the names of alien designers on them. She will be back to them. She loves dresses. I hold one dress and remember the Christmas of my childhood in Nigeria. I don’t remember buying “ready-made” clothes. We went to the tailor. It was cheaper. And boy, were they creative, those tailors.

 Our little girl has too much. We must build shelves for her things. In one corner she has two bags of old clothing. They are not really old. She does not want them anymore. I take them out of the room to go join their relatives – more bags of clothes waiting for the trip to grateful relatives in Nigeria, or to indifferent charities in America who swear we are only doing it for the tax deduction, charity be damned.

There is a poster on the wall. It talks about girls being princesses and boys waiting on their princesses. I hope she keeps up that attitude. I will need the bride price for my old age. There is a poster on the floor. It is a wordless poster, full of dogs. She wanted a dog. We said no. Actually, mom said no. And now, we are miserable. Because she wants a dog. Everywhere we go we see dogs. And she sighs. She asks us questions about dogs. It is always about a dog. Can we get a dog? When are we getting a dog? Daddy, let’s go to the pet store, please! We are not getting a dog for this little girl. She has two gerbils, Lunar and Ginger. Ginger is dead, frozen one cold night, because you-know-who forgot to bring the cage up from  the cold basement.. Lunar survived by a shivering whisker. We had fish once. You don’t want to know what happened to the fish. But a dog!  In America, a dog has the status of a child. It is a permanent status for as long as the dog is alive. It is the law. We don’t need another child. This one, Ominira, is a handful.

 We did not get Ominira a dog. We got a dog poster instead. She did not like the dog poster and she left it on the floor with the rest of the rejected sacrificial offerings to a finicky princess. I snatch the poster from the floor and I go looking for our daughter. Where do you want this poster, princess? Her eyes light up like a puppy’s and she asks: Are we getting a dog, daddy? I avert my eyes and I ask her again: Where do you want this poster? She sighs and points to a general area near her bed. She doesn’t care for mute dogs that live in one-dimensional posters. I put the poster up. I step out of the room, lean out the door, look in and the room is clean and pretty again. I ask Ominira, What do you think? Silence. I turn around, she is gone. I can hear her at the foot of our bed, tormenting her mother, my lover, with the same question over and over again: Are we getting a dog today, mummy?

 I step out of the room, lean on the door. I look in and the room is clean and pretty again. She’ll be back to torment me with the awesome noise of her willful silence. Sigh.

Lost in America: Self portrait

Who am I? I am glad you asked. I am an area boy. That is the sum of my essence. I have been loitering around the earth doing what, I don’t know. I expect that when I get to the pearly gates, Orunmila will ask me: So… what did you go do over there? And I would reply: I have no idea! Shebi you were the one that sent me over there!

 So I have told you that I don’t know what I am doing here. I have found myself floating lazily on bits and pieces of the flotsam and jetsam of life, sometimes enjoying myself, sometimes, just being miserable, call it a bi-polar existence. I have three sets of admirers: Those who love me when I am rolling with the joy of the ride, those who love me when I am rolling with the rage of my condition and those who love me anyway. I don’t like formal education; I am happily anti-intellectual. My most miserable times have been spent being miserable under classroom arrest, quaking in my boots before someone with enough gumption to call me a student. The forced structure of a classroom experience, the suffocating dictatorship of the classroom’s hierarchy, the sage on the stage silliness instead of that guide by the side paradigm, man that stuff eats me up. But I lived through it all, I survived (I think) the tyranny of Catholic Boarding School (five hellish years) and the phoniness of a university education.

So I have all these certificates but so what? Na book man go chop? I can honestly say that they have been worthless to my sense of self-worth – they read like an after-thought, an irritating footnote to everything that I hold dear. I still read a lot but I don’t read a lot <grin>. I mean, if you read something and you don’t remember that you read it have you been reading? I think that the book as a medium of communication is dead. I exaggerate slightly. The book is on life support. Who read reads books anymore? Why bother? A monkey with a credit card can bag a PhD off the Internet in two weeks flat. Money talks. Just click on the one you want, it goes on your electronic shopping cart and voila, in two weeks when the post office delivers your certificate, you are now Obo the monkey, PhD!

Books just confuse the hell out of me. Take Ben Okri’s books for instance. I am yet to finish any one of his books. My ego will not let me denounce them as unreadable. I wish I had Chinweizu’s courage. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Ben Okri is a genius. In his books, poetry shows up in many places. Okri is a survivor of a war. Westerners roaming Okri’s world would definitely find a magical world, albeit one that is a grimly overrated reality for many children of Africa- mute witnesses to a looming tragedy.  Okri is one brainy warrior determined to tell a story to the world. But I don’t get Okri. I started out with The Famished Road. Dropped it. Picked up In Arcadia and left it somewhere in the bathroom, awed by its incoherence. Picked up The Famished Road again. And I have just stopped reading it again. The Famished Road is a ship-wreck of a novel – shimmering like glassy pieces of brainy material glued together by Okri’s nightmares. The Famished Road immerses you in the despair that you already know of – a story that goes nowhere, fascinating in its mindlessness, but Westerners in America’s suburbs would find it riveting in its grounding with an imagined reality. They will see a society forced into mindless drudgery, its citizens worshiping the deities churning their dreams into nightmares. There will be a need for heavy lifting to shift from this paradigm of irredeemable despair. Hope assures us of the triumph of the will of the beautiful children of Africa willing themselves to survive the vat of hellish carcinogens that is the world they have been thrust in. You will not find that hope in Okri’s world. Despair sells like hot crumpets. I will probably be back because my friend (who is soooo smart) loves Okri. She is always saying, Ikhide you must read Okri, you must read Okri, he is a diviner! I will read Okri again because my friend says to read Okri. But I don’t get Okri.

 I haven’t read many real books lately. I read a lot of junk on the Internet. Every now and then one comes across some good stuff but I wonder if the author knows… Many moons ago I read this really nice piece by the brilliant writer Tolu Ogunlesi – Burn a Bookshop Today; here is an actual quote from this genius: “After the man who invented education, the guy who invented books and publishing deserves the title of Public Enemy No.1.” And I say, Amen! And one last thing, this visionary (Tolu Ogunlesi, that is, not me!) suggests: “If you can’t burn a bookshop, there’s something else you can do: Kidnap a writer, especially a published one! That will discourage the unpublished ones.” A double Amen! to that! I shall be back.

Lost in America – Coming to America!

I don’t know why I came to America. The year was 1982. Nigeria was a world super power, our embassies all over the world routinely denied white people visas to come to Nigeria (yes, we did!). Sisi Clara at the embassy in Washington DC would take one withering look at the pale jelly fish quivering in her presence at the embassy, stamp a lusty DENIED! on his passport and shoo him off with the sage words: “Gerraway jo! Olosi! Your father will not see Nigeria, your mother will not see Nigeria! You will not see the yansh of Nigeria! Olosi! Olori buruku! Moose from Alaska!” And the wimp would slink off wailing: “I want to go to Nigeria! Waaaaaaaaah!” Those were the days. The Naira was stronger than the American dollar and university graduates were paid N300 a month. That was a lot of money in those days. I would know. So, my friend Fat Stanley and I were really enjoying life. We walked around telling people that we were university graduates and people gave us things for being graduates; their money, their daughters, their chickens and their goats. Sometimes they tried to give us their wives. Life was good. The Gulder was flowing, the suya was on the barbecue grill everyday, man, life was good.

 So, I don’t know why I came to America. I am a Nigerian in America. I have been a Nigerian since escaping to America. I have been trying not to be an American since I came to America. The harder I try, the worse it gets, this Nigerianness. There was no reason for me to leave Nigeria. It was 1982, Nigeria was a world super-power, richer than even America. My best friend was Fat Stanley and we were members of a posse of irresponsible Nigerian youths. We were irresponsible because there was nothing to be responsible for and about. Anything we wanted, our parents gladly gave to us. But we were miserable; America was calling out to our restless souls. In Nigeria, like most Nigerians, I did not enjoy being a Nigerian. I wanted to come to America to be an American. Fat Stanley wrote me long letters about the heaven called America and the nightclubs and the women. He wrote about enchanting evenings with American women spent on a strange American activity called a “date”, a ritual that seemed to involve spending dollars. But not to worry, Fat Stanley wrote, the dollars are there. He wrote me in the winters of his exile and my despair and sent me pictures of himself, plump, well fed, leaning on his Cadillac, his winter jacket draped in the dreamy white of snow flakes. He complained a lot in his letters: about the stress of having so many girlfriends, white, black and brown! White girlfriends! He complained about the sex, sex, sex, too much of it, because, you guessed it, he had too many girlfriends! He complained about the food, the chicken that you could have all to yourself, how boring! And the turkeys, he said were of the mutant varieties, giant birds that would make our Nigerian turkeys look like distressed pigeons. I cried and refused to be consoled until my family, actually, my entire village came together and stole enough gofment money to take me to America.

And then I came to America. It was great to see Fat Stanley. For ten minutes. And then I found out a few things about Fat Stanley and America. The Cadillac was not his. Fat Stanley loved taking colored pictures of himself posing by other people’s cars in the parking lot of American shopping malls. Even the winter jacket was not his. Fat Stanley no longer liked us holding hands with me for long walks, any walk, even like we used to do over and over back home in Nigeria. He said it was too gay, whatever that meant. Fat Stanley got one thing right though; there were lots of huge women. I vividly remember my first iyawo. Her right arm alone weighed more than all of my skinny little self and she ate like a starved elephant. Fat Stanley’s Nigerian accent was no longer his. He spoke like a masquerade – through his nose and with his tongue tied in several alien knots. I loved that part about him. I loved his new accent. I simply could not wait to sound like him.

When I first came to America, whenever I opened my mouth, Only Fat Stanley could understand me. Americans avoided conversations with me; they would bribe me with hamburgers not to talk to them. My lecturers promised me top grades if I didn’t raise my hand in class; it was just too stressful for them to decode my guttural sounds. My situation was very stressful to Fat Stanley. Each time, I opened my mouth, Fat Stanley would whine thusly: “Abeg arrange your mouth! Dem nor go understand you!” Fat Stanley told me I had to take accent reduction classes if I was to survive in America. I took the accent reduction classes in Mazi Okezie Ekene Dili Chukwu’s one-room “apartment.” Mazi Chuck as we called him had been in America for twenty years; he spoke like a Made-in-Aba American. I liked that. I took his classes and now no one understands my accent. Not even me.  Whenever I open my mouth, Americans coo “I love your accent! Is that British?” I find this habit racist, definitely aggravating. The people that irritate me the most are the Nigerians that come to the restaurant where I work. They step into my fast food restaurant and even though my name tag says JEFF (not my real name, long story, you won’t understand, trust me!) these bad belle messiahs would go “Nna men, na where you come from?” I always say Pittsburgh! They don’t like that. But who cares? Fat Stanley and I are still here, middle-aged dreamers luxuriating in the wretched promise of America’s love that never shows up. Fat Stanley is now simply Stanley, gone scrawny from shoveling snow and America’s bullshit off his driveway and his dreams. But who cares? We are Americans!