Victor Ekpuk, Brandeis University’s visiting artist-in-residence during October 2004, is a graduate of Obefami Awolowo University at Ife (Nigeria). Along with some other Nigerian artists, including Obiora Udechukwa, Ekpuk has incorporated the signifying forms of the semi-secret writing system known as nsibidi, important in the ritual and aesthetic traditions of the Ejagham people of southwestern Cameroon and the Efik, Ibibio and southern Igbo peoples of southeastern Nigeria.

Nsibidi plays critical roles in many secret societies of the region, including the Ekpe (leopard) society, and informs the anaforuana script of Afro-Cuban religious practice. Like secrets elsewhere, the signs of nsibidi hover between openness and opaqueness; they tantalizingly call attention to their own indecipherability, hinting at mysteries and wisdom beyond the realms of conventional perception. While the surface meanings of some nsibidi are broadly known to all, the more nuanced associations of the full set of symbols are only mastered through a life long process of initiation, discipline and revelation. Glimpsed on body décorations, textiles, sculptures and house walls, nsibidi notations may be regarded as visible manifestations of the invisible world, bridging the chasm between normally distinct realms of existence and experience.

Ekpuk has imaginatively built on nsibidi and other graphic systems, including Egyptian hieroglyphics, to develop a highly personal set of script images that are both enigmatic and profoundly compelling. The meanings of these “scribblings” transcend literal decoding, but are hinted at through their elaboration in the painted and sculptural forms in which they are embedded. His work reminds us that the power of literacy cannot simply be reduced to the capacity of written symbols to convey semantic meaning or formal content, but is more broadly invested in human spiritual and cognitive struggles to transform the very grounds of perception. Viewing his work, I find myself reflecting that the world’s diverse writing systems may have emerged out of ancient practices of divination, prophecy and vision quests, as esoteric knowledge was gradually condensed into graphic, efficacious forms. In Ekpuk’s visual mediations on universal and recent human predicaments, he returns us to a common well-spring, the profound reverence for Scripture shared across so many of humanity’s religious and spiritual traditions.

The title of this exhibition, “Trans/Scripts,” evokes these linked elements in Victor Ekpuk’s work and in the histories and cultural repertories that have inspired him. His art moves us across geographical regions that have at times been opposed in violent conflict; he fuses the Islamic walaha or Qur’anic writing boards of northern Nigeria with the graphic patrimony of southeastern Nigeria, the region once known as Biafra. These paintings explore bonds between Africa and her Diaspora long ago violated, and generated, by the Middle Passage. Through these visual “songs”, Victor Ekpuk transports us across multiple boundaries--between word and image, signifier and signified, secrecy and revelation, encryption and inscription, encipherment and decipherment. In his works, each moment of transcription emerges as an act of reverence, a prayer for understanding that transcends our overt differences while celebrating the marvelous multiplicity of all the languages of creation.

Trans scripts
Trans lation
Trans ition
Trans position
Trans atlantic
Trans formation
Trans cendence
Trans scripts

Mark Auslander- Curator, 2004

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in African Arts and Aesthetics, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA


Trans/Script: The Art of Victor Ekpuk

October 21, 2004,  Slosberg Gallery, Brandeis University, Massachusetts, USA

“Bird Call”, acrylic on canvas


© 2007 Victor Ekpuk, All rights reserved

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