Presenting Victor Ehikhamenor’s luscious demons: Amusing the Muse – April 29 – May 31 2013
by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
(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.
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.
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
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.
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