Victor Ekpuk to showcase new work at Princeton University Art Museum

Victor Ekpuk, a Nigerian-born, D.C.-based artist, is set to showcase his new work at Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey. The exhibit, titled “Language and Lineage,” explores various themes that have unfolded in Ekpuk’s work over the last three decades.

Ekpuk’s work is inspired by ancient Nsibidi graphic and sacred means of communication among male secret societies in southeastern Nigeria, as well as characters borrowed from other cultures and his own vibrant systems of expression. He uses this visual language to comment on political oppression, social issues and police brutality.

He grew up with Nsibidi practiced around him and watching his maternal grandfather, a titled chief, entertain Ekpe and Ekpo masquerades as they performed Nsibidi in his compound. 

In an interview with Ebony, Ekpuk said that he is “pleased with this exhibition Language and Lineage. My curator has attempted to summarise three decades of my artistic practice, selecting works with political, social and cultural themes.”

When asked about his Nigerian upbringing, Ekpuk said he was very blessed to have been born in a country still very rich in culture. His conscious dipping into the aesthetics of Nigeria has fed his artistic expression immensely.

His work frequently explores the human condition of identity in society. It draws upon a wider spectrum of meaning that is rooted in African and global contemporary art discourses. His unique style consists of political cartooning and his own unique Nsibidi inspired illustration.

One of the pieces featured in the exhibit is “In Deep Water,” a digital drawing that Ekpuk made in 2012. The drawing is inspired by the artist’s visit to a boys’ high school in an African American neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. The architecture of the school was jarring to Ekpuk, and he was struck by the feeling that the students were already in prison.

“My artwork pictures the head of a Black person with water just under their chin–they can either sink or swim,” Ekpuk said. “The history of Bainbridge House made me think about descendants of enslaved Africans who are themselves still struggling for air in America.”

Well-versed in the Nsibidi language, he said that he learned more about it in college while researching it as a means of developing his own artistic visual language.

“I was most fascinated that it busted the miseducation and colonial lie that my and African cultures as a whole were illiterate cultures,” Ekpuk said. “Nsibidi is a form of literacy that does not conform to Western-style literacy.”

Ekpuk’s exhibit, “Language and Lineage,” opens at Art@Bainbridge, Princeton University Art Museum on July 22.


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