Nigerian Artist Victor Ehikhamenor Challenges Convention

– News Article

“Why are there no black saints?” asks Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor, whose work Saints and Sanctums is currently on display at the inaugural 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale Curators’ Exhibition.

An exciting showcase of 20 contemporary African artists, and extraordinary in terms of international reach and extent of art on show, the exhibition places creativity in critical dialogue with the society that fosters and exhibits it.

The theme, ‘Tomorrow There Will be More of Us’, provides the meeting points for engagement with the divided past, the collective present and the imagined future. The focus is on accessibility, development and the democratisation of art and its numerous benefits for all.

“African creatives confront us with what is possible for a renewal to happen utilising art as a lens, a course correction, a stimulus around curiosity and imagination. Through the Stellenbosch Triennale, we bring work from the continent to the southernmost tip as an intersection of time – where the past, present and future are in dialogue,” explains Khanyisile Mbongwa, chief curator of the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale.

With impressive installation art on display, Ehikhamenor departs from a stance of his own experience as a Catholic in Africa, delving into realities and dreams, and challenging the status quo. The symbolism of his installation is also placed within the greater context of the theme of the Triennale, ‘Tomorrow There Will Be More of Us’.

“This work is made entirely from prayer rosaries, because I grew up as a Catholic. We don’t really have black saints, and I wonder why that is. So we have to create our own saints,” he says.

“The open door that comes with the installation, is also to show that doors have to be opened for everybody to go through. You have millions of Catholics in Africa, yet you can’t count saints.

“Tomorrow there will probably be more saints that we are going to create by ourselves. And that cuts across everything from politics to economics, cultural orientations and more.”

To view a video of Ehikhamenor, and his work Saints and Sanctums, on display at the Stellenbosch Triennale’s Curators’ Exhibition at The Woodmill in Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, until 30 April 2020, click here.

Ehikhamenor’s show at the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale is made possible by Nederburg Wines.

Artist Profile: Victor Ehikhamenor

b. 1970 in Uwessan, Edo State, Nigeria. Lives and works between Lagos, Nigeria and Maryland, USA.

Victor Ehikhamenoris a multi-faceted artist whose practice encompasses painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and installation, as well as unique perforated works on paper.

Born in an Uwessan village in Edo State, the historic seat of the Benin Empire, he draws inspiration from the dual aesthetic and spiritual traditions which infused his upbringing, using imagery and symbolism from both Edo traditional religion and Catholicism.

His signature patterning is a frenetic mélange of gestural abstraction and stylised forms, revealing faces, objects and writing systems. This patterning is used in everything from paintings to photographs to immersive installations, producing a hypnotic experience, a sense of both meditative repetition and an ongoing narrative being told.



Artwork by Victor Ehikhamenor on Show at the Curator's Exhibition

Saints and Sanctums

Rosary beads on textile, found wooden door, mirrors, chalk

An installation about spirituality, dispossession, understanding and assimilation. In this work, the artist combines Catholic prayer rosaries with artefacts and prayer white chalk reflecting traditional Edo systems. The African ways of worship which were once demonised have evolved and now exist together with Catholicism in Nigeria.

Power House

Some would say that it was serendipity that led the artist to this small building when he arrived on site. When he looked through the windows, he realised that this was where the generators which use to supply electricity to the whole precinct were housed. Painting the walls in his iconic abstract shapes in yellow on black, Ehikhamenor references both the literal and the metaphorical. Not only does the building house the disused power generator, but being at the entrance of the Curators’ Exhibition space, it reminds him of the buildings located at the entrance of traditional Nigerian villages where the elders meet and the ancestors are commemorated; a building that houses the power(ful) in the community. Stellenbosch is a significant seat of power in South Africa, but like the abandoned generator, could power shift over time?

Additional Information

What is a Triennale?

Italian meaning every three years. Triennale or biennale is most commonly used within the artworld to describe large-scale contemporary art exhibitions from select countries. Named after the town which hosts them. Over 600 biennales & triennales in the world, but none in southern Africa. Unlike art fairs or festivals, triennales/biennales are not commercial or sales-driven.

Curators’ Exhibition opening hours:

Mondays: Closed

Tuesdays to Fridays: 10:00 to 18:00

Saturdays: 10:00 to 16:00

Sundays: 10:00 to 14:00