Victor Ekpuk resident at the Thami Mnyele Foundation

February 2008 -

Artist Victor Ekpuk (Nigeria, 1964) wonders: Why, if Santa Claus can carry his presents by himself, does St Nicholas need his black Peters? Doesn't that smell like 'grateful slaves'? Slavery and colonialism have 'marinated' for a long time in Ekpuk's head. But it is only recently that he is making artistic statements about it.


dis Amsterdam life © Victor Ekpuk

Slave Narratives is a new series of large format drawings which he created while in residency at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam. Abstracted forms of ships dominate the visual surface. One ship is populated by an endless amount of abstracted human bodies. In another drawing these bodies are floating or sinking into the surrounding sea. Many of his drawings, like these, can be read in two layers: a dominant image in pastel or water colour with a labyrinth of miniature pencil drawings on top. This is Ekpuk's handwriting, derived from nsibidi – an ancient writing from southeast Nigeria, or hieroglyphs and contemporary local signs, like an umbrella or a car, in dis Amsterdam life. These are surprising picture puzzles in which one can lose one's gaze; a contemporary horror vacui.

The 'snapshots' of Ekpuk's experiences on the street of Amsterdam also speak for themselves. In the minimal line drawing Kiss And Tell two women kiss each other, an amusing experience and a mild culture shock in one. Social commentary aside, Ekpuk indulges in exhortation of beauty, for instance female beauty. Uyai Ban 2 (Beautiful Woman 2) is a little female figure that features somewhere else as a miniature, but now blown up: her elegant hairdo and seductive eyelashes balance on top of a rarefied body, though supported by a firm foot.

What are his plans now that his working period in Amsterdam is coming to an end? First a month in Nigeria, he says, where he will give a lecture at the recently opened Centre for Contemporary Art in the capital Lagos. And than back to The Netherlands, where he has been living and working since three years, alternated with an upcoming exhibition in the Wertz Contemporary gallery in Atlanta in the United States.