Sunday 7 February 2016

Still Reconnecting With Roots, Ekpuk Goes Head Series

By Tajudeen Sowole
For the second time in three years, U.S-based artist, Victor Ekpuk, keeps reconnecting with his roots after spending over one and half decades abroad. Currently romancing Heads Series, Ekpuk is one of the artists to watch on the art circuit in Nigeria this year as he prepares for his post-Arthouse Residency solo exhibition.
Victor Ekpuk in Lagos, preparing for his upcoming art exhibition

For four months, Ekpuk was an artist in residence with Arthouse-The Space, in Lagos, until late last year when he had his Open Studio, which concluded the residency. Ahead of his proposed solo art exhibition titled Homecoming, showing from April 2-23 at Renault Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos, a preview into what the artist's preparedness looks like suggests quite a shift, though within his identity of drawing technique and style.

Before leaving Nigeria to U.S in the late 1990s, Ekpuk established himself as an illustrator, publishing his works in newspapers. When he returned for a break in 2014, courtesy of Research Fellowship grant from Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), his rendition, so suggested an accompanied Open Studio, still weaves around simple illustrative strength of his brushings on canvas. More importantly, his theme was based on memories of Lagos, which attempted to juxtapose with the subsisting scenes he saw during his return.
For the Arthouse residency and what to expect when the planned-exhibition opens, possibly, before the end of the first quartre in 2016, Ekpuk tells his guest that it's still an extension of "how Lagos inspires me." The residency, he adds, offered a window to expand his horizon on the Lagos inspiration beyond "the expenditure I have been doing in the U.S."
In his previous visit, Ekpuk picked on the changing face of commuting in Lagos, with tricycle (keke), among others that attracted his palette. For the 2015/16 works, a culture of people mounting loads on their heads from one place to another, is among his focuses. Beyond seeing people, in physical context using their heads to carry loads, the artist takes his inspiration further. "Metaphorically and literally, we all carry things on our heads," notes Ekpuk as he leads his quest through the works. The concept, he explains gives other meanings to some of the works that feature hairstyles and other fashions, which include one form of head wears or the other. 

 For an artist who recalls growing up with people using their heads to move loads as well as the head as space for loads of head-wears under the trend or culture and fashion - the gele - a comparative probe, perhaps, was unavoidable while in the U.S.  
 Specifically, the fashion aspect attracts Ekpuk. "In the U.S, a fashionable woman is a hip sista," he says. "So, in my native language, there is a similar expression."
Victor Ekpuk, during his residency at Arthouse-The Space.
As at the time of the studio visit, nearly all the displayed pieces were still in works-in-progress states, hence no titles attached. However, the energy embedded in the drawings and paintings mounted on the walls inside a large living room exude the artist's regeneration of his concept.

 Every artist in residence, primarily, distils something new from the experience and brings freshness to what could be an expansion of his or her oeuvre. For Ekpuk, an experiment into the sphere of metal sculpture is the high point of his Arthouse-The Space residency. Seeing the works in progress on the walls, few of them generate a rhetorical question: before moving to a state of metal, was Ekpuk's work ever sculptural in the first place? Maybe yes: quite a number of the paintings are relief wall pieces, which faintly blurs the line of between dimensional and flat surface works.  The piece, which he describes as "metal drawing" is, interestingly within the drawing identity of the artist. 

  Not exactly something that started during his residency in Lagos last year. The infusion of metal into his work, he discloses, emerged when he was "the only painter at a residency in France.  
 With the Ekpuk residency, Arthouse-The Space has made its first attempt at getting artists a space to expand their horizon as part of the goal of the auction house, Arthouse Contemporary Limited's subsidiary outlet. Ekpuk is not exactly new on the promoters' list of artists. In fact, he was among the first set of artists that Arthouse-The Space took to international art event in 2014.
 Other artists whose works featured under the show tagged R-evolution at Art 14, London, U.K, are George Osodi, Sokari Douglass Camp, Kainebi Osahenye and Victoria Udondian. 

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