Saturday 21 June 2014

Storytellers on the spot of Ehikhamenor's Enchanted World

By Tajudeen Sowole
The complexity of retelling stories to make the past relevant in the future drags design artist, Victor Ehikhamenor into employing his newly found techniques of fold and tie to expose what he notes as a bewitched world.

A sculptural wall piece The Whirlwind Dancers of Uwessan by Victor Ehikhamenor.

And deliberately, to show the rest of the world that Africa has better stories to tell outside wars and crisis, he takes his thoughts, via visual narratives, to a foreign space in the exhibition titled. Chronicles Of The Enchanted World, currently showing for five weeks at The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) London, U.K.

He declares, ahead of the show's opening, that his new body of work as a medium of story-telling "drags the past to come witness the present and shape the future for those interested." The artist who has his fingers on the literary genre also warns of how “elasticity" of retelling story affects generations to the point of enchantment.

The artist's claim of a vantage position, as a columnist on socio-political matters and graphic artist, to highlight the issues raised in his exhibition may not be countered: recall that he ran the weekly column, Excuse Me! at the now rested 234NEXT newspaper. Last year he authored a book, which shares the same heading with the rested column.  With a dual exploits in visual and literary arts, Ehikhamenor may be seeing things that others, storytellers across the genres and medium particularly, do not see.

In recent times, he has been one of the most visible experimental artists on the Lagos art scene. Last year, in a solo show titled Amusing the Muse, held at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos, the artist brought a self-coined paintforation.  It’s a technique supposedly of the family of painting, but has a relief texture, stressing his identity of blurring the lines between art and design.

For the London show, it’s a step further into the wall relief of “paintings and sculptural installations.” He calls it “fold and tie.” From his native Edo-inspired window and lines themes to the current adventure in foil and perforation technique, Ehikhamenor's oeuvre of probity into lost ancient visual expression continues. For his new body of work it beams searchlight onto the psychology of storytelling as the reverberating or "elasticity" expands the artist's exploration of the Africa’s lost creative values.

Some of the works from “Chronicles Of The Enchanted World, viewed via soft copies include paintings, light relief and installation that summarise the artist's experimental efforts as well as stress what constitute the contents of retelling stories that have the world “enchanted.” 

For example, a textile and tapestry-like installation titled The Whirlwind Dancers of Uwessan, represents five images of masquerades depiction, which he says are of the ishan people of Edo State. South South of Nigeria. The coming of the dancers, he explains, is hardly tied to any period of the year unlike most masquerades in Africa that are usually festival related. “The are used to mark celebrations of any kind.” 

Another piece, The Rainmaker, which attempts to go beyond the relief into a multi-dimensional image, carries the artist’s drawings identity along in his new tie and folds technique.

Essentially, Ehikhamenor’s Enchanted World” is also an attempt to rewrite stories coming from Africa. He argues that “everything that the west do not understanding about Africa is seen as war.” As debatable as his argument is, there is no doubt that the need to se Africa from other lights is basically the responsibility of the continent’s creative community; the political elites and managers of economy have failed the people.

As much as artist needs to make literary addition to appropriate their work in what is known as artist statement, sometimes over intellectualising the contents could be distractive. In appropriating Ehikhamenor's work, one needs to be mindful of the artist's subconscious penchants for literary expression that tends to dwarf the real visual contents. This much his Artist Statement, which appears like review of a book suggests. Art, it could be argued, breathes better on its own with less literary lift.

However, in the relevant extracts, he notes that as much as history and resultants occurrence pressurise writers to  "retell stories" the responses, he argues are usually full of exaggeration to rewrite the past. "As these narratives are espoused by one storyteller and then another, from one generation to the other, they become elastic and magical, sometimes contentiously constructed."

Reconstructing what perhaps is a distorted past, the artist recalls how “a once vibrant village” had tutored the young ones in folktales and the values of “shrines and altars of worship.” But all is not lost to modernity and contemporaneity as the likes of Ehikhamenor still connect with the “vibrant” roots. “As one grow older and dissect these old tales, the reality of things kick in, the characters and events heard of as a child are not as far away anymore.” He stresses how “those early distant characters become “us”, we the living.”

About three years ago Ehikhamenor had, at Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos shown, Entrances and Exits: In Search of Not Forgetting, and started unfolding a form of native contents.

A year after that show, he took his thoughts on identity to overseas and showed at a yearly art and culture festival in Greece.

Ehikhamenor graduated from Bendel State University, Ekpoma (now Ambrose Alli University) with a BA degree in English and Literary Studies. He also holds Masters of Fine Art (MFA) from University of Maryland, College Park in the USA.

After his studies and working experience in the US, Ehikhamenor returned to Nigeria and shared his design skills as art director of the rested 234Next newspapers. His experience as an independent book cover designs of many years was an asset he brought into the creative section of the newspaper.

Some of his solo exhibitions abroad are Beyond The Surface, at Utopia Gallery, Washington, DC and Spirits In Dialogue, the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute Gallery, Washington, DC  both held in  2000.  

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