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It would be fair to say that though all artists have a unique method of expressing themselves and their art, only a few can be associated with a particular field. Victor Ekpuk is one of them, and his abstract drawings, inspired by the Nsibidi and Uli art forms of Eastern Nigeria, are those of a rarely thread ground.

Upon graduation from the University of Ife in 1989 with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Mr. Ekpuk worked for eight years as a cartoonist and illustrator for Daily Times newspaper. It was the styles encountered with school and early work experiences that formed his unique art style. His works, though contemporary, are chiefly influenced by ancient writing scripts: Nsibidi scripts of Ibibio origin and surrounding tribes, Uli body and mural drawings among the Igbos, forms in Yoruba art and Koranic boards (walaha), all indigenous to traditional Nigeria. The uniqueness of his works also stem from how he blends the forms that influence his style; for instance, nsibidi drawings on Koranic boards.

Victor Ekpuk’s work transcends his inspirations (inspiring platforms of nsibidi and uli) and has evolved into his own peculiar and personal representations. With a largely extensive media of oil/acrylic on canvas, chalk on boards, cloth materials and even metal, the graphic symbols of his works are not only titled but also tell stories to his captivated audience.

A recent exhibition titled Portraits, at the Sulger-Buel Lovell Gallery in London between September 29 and October 24, 2015, displayed paintings of acrylic on canvas and a live drawing performance in which he used chalk on walls. Quite philosophical, his choice of making drawings with chalk portrays the ephemeral essence of life.  Brief, fleeting, short-lived, transitory, life doesn’t last forever, thus, it simplifies the nature of life itself. The drawings, though erased on the 20th of November, still had traces etched in the walls and thus was translated as our ability as humans to keep memories long after experiences have past. With reference to the title, Victor explains “According to African philosophy, the head is the seat of consciousness and memory, and our   lives on earth are guided by its disposition. These portraits ponder these notions while expressing my interest in consciousness as well as individual and collective identities. I am intrigued by the nature of human’s self-knowledge as layers of memories that are constantly being transposed, appropriated and imagined. I believe that our identities are essentially the sum of past and present memories that are shaped by circumstances. These portraits are perhaps a search for the essence of ourselves.”

Because most of his works are influenced by graphic symbols, they are characterized by lines and dots, and sometimes, a distinctive contrast of a bright color against black and white. Most enthralling is the precision and accuracy which characterize his chalk drawings. Victor starts with a line and maintains an accurate pattern of script-like drawings throughout the expanse of the wall as seen in notable live performances of his works.

Sequel to a four-month residency at the ArtHo12513655_10153778936024270_2439093373420872303_ouse Foundation in Lagos, Victor Ekpuk will hold a solo exhibition titled Home Coming on April 9, and will be on until April 30 at the Renault Showroom, along Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. Internationally, his works have been exhibited in such venues as the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Dakar Biennale, Senegal; the Johannesburg Biennial, South Africa; the Krannert Art Museum, Illinois; the Fowler Museum, California; the Newark Museum, New Jersey; Sulger Buel-Lovell Gallery, London; the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, USA, and the 12th Havana Biennale in Cuba, and are housed in collections at Smithsonian National Museum for African Art, the National Museum of African Art, the Newark Museum, the University of Maryland Art Collection, and the World Bank.

Creating contemporary art on a traditional platform, Victor Ekpuk encourages his viewers to enjoy the aesthetics of his abstract art and accept them for what they are, even when they cannot give a literal interpretation to it.

Here is a random collection of some of his works.

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This article was first published on 5th April 2016


Nnenna is an editor and writer at Connect Nigeria. She loves fine art, books and places.

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