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There’s a man in a suit, waiting to meet you. He’s frozen in movement, yet walking with purpose. Made of galvanised metal in yellow and black patterns, he is a mystic: ‘Isimagodo’. this is the work of VICTOR EHIKAHAMENOR, one of NIROX Foundation’s artists in residence.

Isimagodo by Victor Ehikhamenor at Nirox Sculpture Park located at the Cradle of Humankind between Johannesburg and Tswane, South Africa.

“‘Isimagodo’ ... is the inner spirit of the masquerade,” says Ehikahamenor, drawing from his Nigerian roots, explaining this key to express political tension he has witnessed and to describe how he believes all governments behave. “We think we understand government and leaders but we don’t. We just see them as normal humans but we don’t know what they are thinking... That is where my sculpture is coming from,” he says.

Ehikahamenor was born in 1970 and has been drawing ever since his hand was dexterous enough to hold a drawing tool. Although he finds many artists inspiring, he says his true influences come from his village, Uwessan in Nigeria’s Edo State. Enthusiastic about South African literature and music, Ehikahamenor speaks of how the violence of Alex La Guma’s novel A Walk in the Night touched him deeply, and spurred him on to make an important series of drawings, in which the figures, like scared bystanders, are shunted to the sides of

the canvas. The patterns which bleed and spill across the composition mesmerisingly reflect faces, and lend the work vibrant energy that grabs you by the heart.

Ehikahamenor’s deep love of language comes from stories he was told by his grandmothers. He lovingly mentions the traditional shrines and how the aesthetics of the symbols he knew as a child grew into the foundation of his art and his unique visual vocabulary of symbols.

Photo taken during my interview with Mr Ehikhamenor at his studio in Nirox Sculpture Park

He graduated with a language degree in 1991, at the age of 21, from Ambrose Alli University in Ekpoma, Nigeria. His world at the time was boiling with political discord. It was then, that he was born, politically. He worked as a cartoonist for the university’s newspaper, but he felt

suffocated by the politics, and eventually left Nigeria to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Washington DC became home for Ehikahamenor for 14 years. But painting politically from afar was tough: “...When you are away from home you fold into yourself and I think that is when I folded into myself and began to focus on myself in a way that you fall into that nostalgic funk focus on the past you left behind,” he said.

But Ehikahamenor explores a different kind of funk in the present. It’s not tinctured with nostalgia. Just a week after arriving in South Africa, he was aggressively searched by two South African Police Service officers, after a book reading in Johannesburg. It was a violation. Was he accosted because he is black? Because he is not South African?

Put your hands where I can see them is an urgent, angry painting he created about this ordeal. In making work, Ehikahamenor takes the entire world into consideration. He weaves narrative through line with energy to inflame you. His approach to social and political problems is hands on; the alarming rapidity at which he works allows for a thrilling dialogue. Once his work has touched you, it won’t let go.

Extract from NIROXsculpture | WINTER 2016

Curated by Helen Pheby PhD, Senior Curator of Yorkshire Sculpture Park

and Mary-Jane Darroll

Photo taken during my interview with Mr Ehikhamenor


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