My visual vocabulary is derived from exploring the aesthetic philosophies in the African writing system nsibidi
, where forms are reduced to their linear essence. This abstraction of both form and meaning has led me to the invention of my own glyphs that playfully references both art and writing.
In recent years, I have devoted much of my work to exploring drawing as an independent genre that is not a support for painting. My work explores abstraction in a way that speaks a global hybrid language. My work frequently investigates the human condition of identity, politics, social, cultural and psychological.
My series of ephemeral drawings “Meditation on Memory Series,” where I or other person later erase my finished drawings, explores the notion of memory, from which one derives a sense of self/identity as an ephemeral condition that is constantly in flux and could be affected by life circumstances.
While he was growing up in Nigeria, Victor Ekpuk would see nsibidi
symbols inscribed on things and places. He didn’t know the specific meanings of each mark – only that he must avoid what was marked in this way. These were the signs of an adult male secret society of which the boy was not a member. Therefore, these marks were part of his life, and yet were “other” to him. It was only when he began to study art at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria that he investigated the more particular meanings and history of the strange linear characters. He discovered that nsibidi
symbols have a long history of being painted, inscribed, engraved, sculpted and performed in southeastern Nigeria. Ekpuk has founded his personal artistic vocabulary in his own versions of nsibidi
, adapting the meanings and forms to his own expression.
Ekpuk’s linear writing-drawing is by no means an exact transcription of nsibidi, nor are all of the parts of this person visual language derived from the artist’s African background. He has travelled to many parts of the world and found symbols all around him. He does not assign a specific significance to every mark. The shapes that come together in the African-American artist’s drawings, paintings and sculpture function as abstractly as any patterning in western-based modern art. Yet, the roots of his work in writing and symbolism charge every mark, shape, and area of color with meaning.
Ekpuk’s work bridges divides between writing and drawing, painting and drawing, the modern and the ancient. He creates art in many media, including drawings on paper, paintings and painted ceramics. He also creates wall-sized temporary drawings in installations around the world. Ekpuk’s recent ephemeral installations include his chalk drawing for the exhibition Auto-Graphics: Recent Drawings by Victor Ekpuk at the Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an installation for the 11th Biennale of African Contemporary art, Dak’Art, in Dakar, Senegal.
Ekpuk’s entries in the 12th NDI include two framed permanent drawings. The drawing Dis Amsterdam Life is a reflection upon his experiences in 2007 as an artist in residence at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Composition #2 combines the bold light and dark pattern symbolic of a leopard’s spots with the intricate figures of Ekpuk’s own abstract drawing vocabulary.
Ekpuk will also make a wall-sized ephemeral drawing which will appear between August 20th and 22nd. This drawing in paint markers on the wall will be inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony. This is the first time that Ekpuk will draw from music. Like most wall drawings in museums, Ekpuk’s Ode to Joy will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition. The ephemeral nature of the work adds to the intensity of experience while it is on the wall. The artist’s process of drawing and the resulting work will be filmed and thus images of it will be preserved when the music has faded and the drawing is gone.
Surely, most of the marks that humans have made on walls since before recorded history have been expunged as Ekpuk’s drawing on the wall of the Arkansas Arts Center will be. Others have stood through the millennia on the walls of caves and rock shelters around the world. Ekpuk’s drawings, whether on paper or on walls, make their way around the world through photography and the internet. In this way, they are shared with audiences scattered in both space and time.
Ann Prentice Wagner
Curator of Drawings