ART AFRICA: Your work is rooted in folklore, storytelling. As an artist who works in both Nigeria and Maryland, do these simultaneous histories ever collide? You’ve also noted that your muse is more active whilst in Nigeria. Could you elaborate on this?
Victor Ehikhamenor: As an artist who draws inspiration and influence from memory and history, Nigeria for me is the living fountain of the material that fuels my work and the fecundity of the space is not comparable to anywhere else in the world. The vibrancy, the spirit, the energy and the challenges that I encounter while in Nigeria are very instrumental to my works – to simply put it, I am closer to the source of the river whose water I drink.
As a writer and artist, I have to constantly be conscious of both art forms and how they interact with each other. My use of visual symbols and motifs with origin from ancient writing systems are also very subliminal in my body of works. So, in a sense, what was text hundreds of years ago has evolved to visuals. However, in a more direct way, I have recently started interrogating actual literary works by major African writers by reimagining and reviewing their texts as drawings and paintings. Earlier in the year while at a residency at Nirox Foundation Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Humankind in the outskirt of Johannesburg, I did five large drawings on canvas, visually narrating some of the crucial events in A Walk In The Night, a novella by the late South African writer Alex La Guma. A Walk in The Night is about the class, race, relationship and violence in South Africa between blacks, coloured and whites in the 60s. And I am currently re-reading and researching Christopher Okigbo’s poems, which is the next body of text I want to interpret visually. These are by no means book illustrations; they are my own re-imagination of the state of mind of the writers. I am fictionalising the visceral mental positioning during the creation of the texts. These kinds of cross currents are what I refer to as visual/textual mating.
History, memory, royalty, nostalgia and politics.
This interview was first published in the September 2016 edition of ART AFRICA magazine entitled ‘BEYOND FAIR’.