''As an artist, I paint from memory. Since we choose what to remember and what to forget, I use my art to define what I have not forgotten... my past and present environments have continuous influence on my works. Growing up in a natural environment and mentally colonised country, which is deep in both African religion and Christian belief, has been a big source of influence to my work...''
BY GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR
VERY near the Obalende bridge, some metres away from the MacGregor Canal, sits the office of Victor Ehikhamenor, but this afternoon, we meet in a ‘pleasure dome’. Not his apartment actually. He has driven up 30 minutes from his office to keep this appointment.
Seated in a vast room, which seems a reception, with sunlight streaming through the window, Victor casts a blank look at the object by the window side. His phone rings. He stands up and smiles, which comes out loosely; quite innocently. He looks through the window to see the other side of the road.
“It’s good to be home, to do what one has passion for,” he retorts. His eyes reveal an eagerness to say something. He muses, “home is sweet.”
He calls out a guy, who brings a bottle of mineral water. He sips a little and heaves ‘Home is good’… for the umpteenth time.
“You care for one?” His tone is very warm.
“I don’t mind,” I reply.
As I drink, he snaps me out of the reverie of the Island atmosphere, with the echo of Mirror and Mirages, the title of his show, which opens on May 24.
There’s an excellent atmosphere in the room and suddenly a fit of laughter fills the air.
“Ehikhamenor, is it with an R or without?” I ask.
He looks surprised, but answers, “Oh… with an R.”
THE fair complexioned artist, who is dressed in a white shirt and trouser, a colour that lends gravitas to the chiselled palette of the discussion, says, “Mirror and Mirages is about self examination. It’s about the notion of home, after 15 years. I’m back to Nigeria again and I’m trying to figure out what exactly is home and where exactly is home.”
He adds, “ it is to showcase my new body of works since I returned home. Most of the works are done here in Nigeria as opposed to my previous works executed in America.”
Fate clearly has a sense of humour. And for Victor, he had a dose, when one of his paintings in Farafina’s office influenced the colour palette Mario Garcia, a renowned newspaper designer, used in designing NEXT; and also, University of Maryland, College Park, awarded him a fellowship for an MFA in 2006, before graduating, he won the prestigious Breadloaf Writer’s conference award, but he turned it down to join the NEXT newspaper team in Lagos.
“I have to make history in my own country, Breadloaf can wait: plus I know I can always win the award again.”
As one of the country’s respected contemporary artists, he has returned home to become the Creative Director of NEXT, a new newspaper published in Lagos, Nigeria.
“This is great that I can come back to my homeland and to find a new means of expression, and to be part of a new newspaper. For me to take this giant step from the world of fine arts, to a totally new medium — print and web, and the business of news — is right on target as far as my professional development is concerned. I am learning much already, and the learning curve is quite high, but I am up to the challenge,” he says.
The show, Victor says is another way of expressing his company’s interest and involvement in arts. Timbuktu Media, publisher of NEXT, is sponsor of the show.
BORN in Udomi-Uwessan, Edo State, the multi-talented visual artist, photographer, poet and writer graduated from Bendel State University, Ekpoma (now Ambrose Alli University) with a BA degree in English and Literary Studies. He also holds an MS in Technology Management from University of Maryland, University College, Adelphi. In 2006, the department of English at the University of Maryland, College Park awarded him a fellowship/scholarship to pursue a Master’s of Fine Art (Creative Writing) degree.
Victor’s sojourn in visual art is ‘modern folklore’. The ambitious youngman, with avuncular charm, learnt the art of painting and drawing scapes at home. When he was much younger, he watched his mother paint her hut and compound. He also studied the beautiful paintings on shrines.
As a young boy, he was privileged to witness many festivals that were highly spiritual, which now form parts and pillars of his creativity. By the time he became old enough to go to secondary school, he told his parents he wanted where he could draw. But his parents didn’t allow him.
“My mother felt I was too young to go to boarding house and insisted I remained a Day student. And the option available didn’t offer me opportunity to draw. I was just doing it at home.”
Victor shoots an affectionate glare and winks; “my brother had an experience in boarding house that was not palatable and mother didn’t want me to face such…you know, as the last born.”
“As an artist, I paint from memory. Since we choose what to remember and what to forget, I use my art to define what I have not forgotten,” he muses.
The artist, who maintains a home in Nigeria and US, smiles, “my past and present environments have continuous influence on my works. Growing up in a natural environment and mentally colonised country, which is deep in both African religion and Christian belief, has been a big source of influence to my work.”
His works are eclectic, because, as he says, “I create artworks from everything and anything. I continuously reinvent myself, which is very evident in my new body of works that will be displayed in the show at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island.”
OVER the years, Victor has had numerous juried exhibitions, group shows and solo exhibitions, around the world. He was the first Nigerian to be shown at the Science and Industry Museum, in Chicago, Illinois in 2008 at the Black Creativity exhibition. He has participated in shows such as Invasion of Privacy, Jennings Gallery, Washington, D.C (2008), Labyrinth of Memories, Didi Museum, Lagos, Nigeria (2007), Beyond The River, Embassy Of Grenada, Washington, D.C. (2006), Divine Intervention, Howard University A J Blackburn Center Gallery, Washington, D.C. and Talking Walls, BB&T Bank, NW Washington, D.C. (2005), Discovering the gods, Monroe Gallery, Arts Club of Washington, Washington, D.C. (2001), Spirits In Dialogue, The Brazilian-American Cultural Institute Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2000), among others.
Among his group shows are Black Creativity, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL (2008), Rhythms & Blues, Sarah Silberman Gallery, Montgomery College, MD (2007), Memories: 2Griot, JoySmith Gallery, Memphis, TN (2004), Symbols and Metaphors, Underwood Studio, Chevy Chase, MD (2003), Home of African Concepts Gallery, Kent, WA (2002), Patuxent Art League Members Juried Show, Laurel, MD (2001), Same Tree, Different Roots, Howard University AJ Blackburn Center Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2001) and National Geographic Society Staff Show, Washington D.C. (1999).
He has also received several awards and honours such as the Leon Forest Scholar Award for fiction, New York (2008), Breadloaf Writer’s Conference Scholarship award for Non-Fiction, US, Familiar Streets Writing Contest award for A Beautiful Freedom by Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, Washington, D.C. (2006), Short Story Award for The Supreme Command by Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, London, UK (2003) and First Place, Arts Club of Washington Juried Exhibition. Juror, Dr. Kimberly A. Jones, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (2000).
SOME of Ehikhamenor’s selected publications include The General’s Bulldozers, (short story) The Literary Review, USA, Money, Friends and Greed, (anthology and book illustration) Hodders Publishers, UK, Who Will Bury The Dead (short story) Wasafiri, London, Passport To Heaven (short story) Ecletica Magazine, USA, Echoes From The Valley, NTA Documentary, Nigeria, The Supreme Command (short story) CBA London, UK, Life is Short and The Washington Post, USA.
Book covers that he has illustrated include Songs of Absence and Despair by Toni Kan; Salute without Gun by Ikeogu Oke; Money, Friends and Greed; Anthology published by Hodders Publishers, UK, Measuring Time by Helon Habila, Dreams, Miracle & Jazz: New Adventure In Africa Writing. Ed. Helon Habila & Kadija Sesay. Picador, South Africa, Sky High Flame by Unoma Azuah, English In Africa Journal of the English Dept. of Rhodes University, South Africa, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie and Feeding Frenzy by Jonathan Luckett.