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February 5, 2014

Auto-Graphics: Recent Drawings by Victor Ekpuk

Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois
Victor Ekpuk drawing Composition No. 3. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Nigerian-born artist Victor Ekpuk is best known for his improvisational use of nsibidi, a form of ideographic writing associated with Ekpe, the powerful, transethnic men’s association active in the southern border regions of Nigeria and Cameroon. As a student of fine arts at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife in the mid-1980s, Ekpuk worked in a pedagogical environment informed by onaism, a Yorùbá aesthetic philosophy that urged students to explore the logics of pattern and design in indigenous African art forms. Ekpuk’s fascination with nsibidi during these years—its economy of line and encoded meanings—led to his broader explorations of drawing as writing, and to the invention of his own fluid letterforms. As a mature artist, Ekpuk has so internalized the rhythm and contours of his “script” that it flows from his hand like the outpouring of a personal archive.

In recent years, Ekpuk’s approach to mark making has come to flourish through his investigations of scale, motion, and form. Auto-Graphics features selections from several of Ekpuk’s new bodies of work, including collages, digital prints, and his supersized drawings—bold, vibrant, yet restrained compositions in which nsibidi signs are magnified, cropped, and glided beyond the picture plane. Their dense grounds of micro-script and bristling opaque forms contrast with the more figural works on view. Like nsibidi, which communicates through both visual mark and physical gesture, Ekpuk’s immersive drawings seem to be choreographed with the full force of his body. This will become readily evident to visitors when, upon entering the museum, they will encounter an ephemeral work by Ekpuk drawn directly onto the gallery wall—an ample surface on which to explore the infinite potential of the hand-drawn line.

Victor Ekpuk works across a range of media, including painting, printmaking, collage, sculpture, installation, and public art projects. He was also a prominent political cartoonist for Nigerian newspapers before moving to the United States in 1999. Ekpuk has held numerous residencies at art institutions and universities throughout the United States and in Nigeria, the Netherlands, and France, and his work has been featured in major international exhibitions. He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C.

On March 13, Ekpuk will return to campus to participate in “Post-Scripts,” a gallery conversation with exhibition curator Allyson Purpura and Prita Meier, assistant professor of Art History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The exhibition and gallery conversation are sponsored in part by the Lorado Taft Lectureship on Art Fund/College of Fine + Applied Arts and Krannert Art Museum and partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

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