Seeking roses among rocks

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First published in The Nation newspaper of Nigeria on Monday, 13th of August, 2007

 Life in Nigeria is hard. It is as hard as rock. Yet the on the rocky terrain roses grow. Manifestations of beauty can be seen in the flora and fauna. The people of Nigeria are scattered all over the world in glorious display of the goodness this land of hardship breeds. That is the theme of Victor Ehikhamenor’s recent exhibition as Group Editor (Arts and Culture) Solomon Tai Adetoye reports

Victor Ehikhamenor is not easily defined. He is a labyrinthine complexity. A man of many faces yet lucid and vivid in his colourful manifestations. What describes this United States of America-based Nigerian creative force is just as true in his works.“I am many things,” Ehikhamenor confesses, “but for the purpose at hand, I am an artist and writer from Nigeria.“A clean canvas or white paper is my freedom square. The beckoning and the calling of these virgin spaces allow me to be what I am today and what I will become tomorrow.I started painting at a very early age, and older people called me ‘artist’ even before I knew what the word meant.”A graduate of English, this self-taught painter is also a writer, poet and a photographer. His level of artistic development was on display in the last week of July at an exhibition he held at Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, on Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island in Lagos. Before then he was at Abuja for an exhibition held at the auspices of the Embassy of the United States of America that was part of the celebration of the American Declaration of Independence celebrated last month.Rocks and Roses, the Lagos exhibition was unique in many ways. Jointly sponsored by Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, ASCON Oil and Text Nigeria, the whole event was packaged and well managed by Sublime Communications. A pre-event press conferment was held to create awareness for the week-long exhibition.Rocks and Roses was a display of vintage Victor Ehikhamenor in all his glorious manifestation. Vivid colours. Intricate lines. Prodigious talented blend of photographs and painting done using modern tools offered by advanced software. All these and more.To understand Ehikhamenor’s work is to be exploring. His abstract works demand that the viewer exercise not only patience but intelligent exploration. Traditional motifs blend with abstracted natural forms in colourful splashes that drive home his theme of seeking the good in the conflicting crises of Nigeria.In a country where the bottom line seems to be the only preoccupation of corporate bodies, it is a welcome development to see the tree corporate bodies – Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, ASCON Oil and Text Nigeria – come forward to promote art. Not only is art not directly connected with their businesses – hospitality, oil and telecommunication – they are not of the stature of giants like Hilton, Shell and MTN.During the pre-event press conference, representatives of the companies – Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel Marketing Manager George Blankson, ASCON Oil Executive Director Ndudi Emenmoh and Text Nigeria Managing Director Chike Asiodu – justified their gesture. Not only are their playing the roles of responsible corporate citizens giving back to the society in which they do business they are genuinely concerned with projecting the positive side of Nigeria. If the nation’s image has been tainted by negative acts of fraudulent citizens, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous political agitation pretenders, it is time to present to the world the positive aspect of our life.Victor Ehikhamenor is no doubt one of the ambassadors of Nigeria. The crises in the land that drove many into foreign lands has also created a Nigerian Diaspora of successful sons and daughters of this country whose pursuits and positions abroad present the image of a people who are talented, hard working, intelligent, honest and greatly endowed in their different spheres.Victor Ehikhamenor was born in Edo State, Nigeria and received his BA in English and Literature from Bendel State University, Ekpoma, Nigeria and MS in Technology Management from University Of Maryland, University College, USA. He is currently a Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Victor is a Unix System Engineer, an artist, poet and a photographer.

The different influences in Ehikhamenor’s life can be seen his works. Flaming Laughter for example celebrates the beauty of the African woman in all her colourful display. Holy Ghost Fire is no doubt born of Christian influence while Awakening the Woman in Trance has its roots in African traditional religion.

Victor Ehikhamenor was born in Udomi-Uwessan in Edo State, Nigeria; a place rich in folklore and tradition. When he was a young boy, he was privileged to witness many traditional feasts and Christian festivals, which were highly spiritual and now form the basis for his creative works. Untrained in arts, his intrinsic creative has made him one of the most celebrated Nigerian artists based in the United States of America.

Recalling his growing up years, Victor Ehikhamenor said, “I was always fascinated by the figures, designs and colours that saturated my village when I was a child. Art, mostly functional, was abundant in my environment in Nigeria. Almost everything was art, ranging from my grandfather’s staff of office as the odionwele of my village, to the different wall designs by his seven wives and the clothing worn by men and women, especially on Sundays. As a young boy, I painted on any surface that was smooth enough. School slates, notebooks, my mother’s walls (which got me in trouble most times), even in the sand along my village streets. Those early experiences always snake into my current pieces, though my newer works are constantly evolving.”

The very theme Rocks and Roses carries political overtone. A product of the Niger Delta, Ehikhamenor is not divorced from happening in the region as well as other parts of the world. While celebrating the beautiful things the land has to offer, he paints them against the backdrop of the pollution, deprivation and violence that are hallmarks of our current history. His colours speak of bloodshed and desecration as much as they colourfully display out good sides. The complexities of his subjects are seen in the way he weaves motifs and line, dots and disproportional shapes to present his message.

As a Black man in America and as a world citizen, Victor Ehikhamenor’s works reflects happenings around the globe. The United States of America’s self-imposed policeman of the world is portrayed in Past Time of the Gods. Yet not only the US is presented. The depth of Ehikhamenor ensures that different manifestations of bullying gun boot diplomacy are brought together to send his message across.

In his words, “My works are not devoid of political or ideological tendencies. Society is beautiful and ugly, and we have to portray both paradigms. Take for instance the numerous wars that are ravaging the world, or hunger in the midst of plenty, or homelessness under sky-scrapers, or the lack of healthcare insurance for employees while CEOs ride private jets to golf courses, or bad leaders who want to stay in power forever….“I always have ‘politics’ at the back of my mind when creating any work, whether fiction or art. As for ideology, any art that does not stand for something will eventually fall. However, that does not mean propaganda dictates my creative process, just because I may want to make a political or an ideological statement. Beauty is necessary when you want to shine light on ugliness, and I pay a great attention to what I put out there.”

The conscious intellectual does not allow his political perception to hinder his creative flow and forte. A committed promoter of artistic ideals, Victor Ehikhamenor challenged Nigerian arts writers to have conscious commitment to the arts.

In the hands of such arts ambassadors, using arts to promote the ideals that will eventually bring forth the type of society we dream about is no doubt a visible venture.

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