|From Emmanuel Ekong Ekefrey, a painting titled 'Nsibidi Mascurade' (40 X 84 inch).
GENERATING painterly perspective to the new normals of the second decade of the 21st century is Masked Faces In Lockdown, a solo art exhibition by Emmanuel Ekong Ekefrey, which opened Sunday 5, showing till December 19, 2021 at Thought Pyramid Art Centre, 96 Norman Williams Street Ikoyi Lagos.
Ekefry has been described as self-taught artist, but "a brutal painter." According to Chief Jeff Ajueshi, Artistic Director, Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Abuja & Lagos, the artist has asserted his skills onto the Nigerian contemporary art space through paintings which reflect on the social problems in Nigeria. The artist's works, Ajueshi added, also celebrate his Ibibio culture through his stylistic approach that usually comes with a community of figures.
"Thought Pyramid Art Centre is always willing to partner with artists and institutions in the areas of exhibitions and other programs which we consider very helpful to the growth of Nigeria's contemporary art," Chief Ajueshi said ahead of the opening of the exhibition. "As a result, the works by Emmanuel Ekong Ekefry in this exhibition are conceptually potent and aesthetically fitting to address issues which the gallery notes as important responses to the yearnings of her waiting audience."
Ekefry is an artist who has exhibited locally and globally, and participated in many art auctions around the world; successfully appropriated stories and influences from his Akwa Ibom origin into his paintings to celebrate his ancestry and culture; and whose works thrive in - their forms, contents and the meaning they bear, Chief Ajueshi listed some of the artist's artistic virtues.
"These qualities about his works are symbols that locate his art as a visual response to contemporary issues in Nigerian social space, which has been begging for attention."
The director noted that the exhibition and works on display are both historical, educational as well as an enterprising exercise, aimed at watering Nigeria's contemporary art space, so that successful achievements already recorded in its global acceptance and rating won't go dry.
In a curatorial statement, Emmanuel Chinenye Ifoegbu asked: 'What kind of stories can we read from Emmanuel Ekong Ekefry's multiple forms, creatively composed like a community of stylized creatures struggling to survive? What experiences can such stories stir in our consciousness as art enthusiasts and critics, if not a recall of what culture, politics, and social status mean in the African context?" With such a reminder, how do we now affiliate and relate with the struggling expressions on the faces of these figures, staring at us with such gestures that again reminds one of the coarse and harsh realities of growing up and living in Nigeria as captured in one of his earlier works "Molue"?
Ifoegbuike, Curator at Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Abuja noted that Ekefry's works are best viewed as paintings, ultimately built on canvas, fashioned into space with a buoyant composition of figurative images that allude to his personal experiences of culture and the politics of living and surviving in Nigeria. The curator explained: 'He tells the 'story of stories' about the unpleasant realities of what the value of life is in Nigeria. The stylistic phrasing upon which his figures are grouped is an invitation for one to see different stories in one piece. He confronts forms and colors boldly, yet in a playful rendition that distinguishes his paintings from common brands of contemporary African works of art. The above provides a platform upon which Ekefry's paintings can be engaged."
Excerpts from the curatorial statement; "His works come with complex ornamentation with local motifs usually made with dotted and complex lines that resemble the Uli expressive symbol which celebrates spontaneous lines. His works draw from stories and influences from his riverine community. His interest is to show through his paintings, how ideas, aesthetics, and meaning intersect to make a whole work of art. He creatively frames his themes to draw viewers' attention to the socio-economic and cultural narrative of his environment
"Emmanuel Ekong Ekefry is a painter, born in 1952 with an artistic ancestry that is knitted to his strong affiliations with his cultural environment. While growing up under a sculptor father, he drew with charcoal on any available surface at home and made line expressions on the sand. This childhood practice has metamorphosed into his expertise in reconfiguring forms on canvas like scribbles. His paintings have a signature of intricate designs with squashed forms which are deliberately conceptualized to draw the viewer's attention to look and engage the work more critically. His themes are a reflection of common events within society. This, coupled with his visible skill in rendering brilliant colors on canvas, gives his works that visible kinetic and flow which he celebrates with his multiple forms and gigantic use of space. At first look, there is always a feeling that his canvas, packed with multiple forms, is a product of spontaneous rendition. But on the contrary, his works come as a result of a well-thought-out work plan, sketched and critically scrutinized in concept and content, and delivered on canvas. Ekefry makes use of what he called 'gigantism' a term that he employs to occupy every useful space in his canvas to draw viewers into deeper engagement with his paintings.
With an eye on his Ibibio cultural roots, his works celebrate the aesthetics of the masking traditions of his people with a keen emphasis on Ekpe masquerade and the Abang maiden dancers."