Over the next two weeks, Nigerian-American artist, Victor Ekpuk is creating a 58-foot-long mural at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art as the centrepiece of the newly configured African Arts exhibition area. Before this project, the museum’s African art collection has been a modest display of traditional African art symbolised by a grouping of large masks on a plain wall.
“We’re trying to help people understand that art in Africa – while there is this long tradition of it, there are also many contemporary artists who are part of the international art scene,” said Marina Pacini, the Brooks’ chief curator. “They are making work that may reference traditional African art but that has a contemporary life of its own that is not necessarily part of its trajectory.”
With about a five-year lifespan, the mural for the Brooks is somewhere between ephemeral and permanent. The work is called “Drawing Memory” and is part of a series of works Ekpuk has done in different places.
“The whole idea of memory – my notion of memory – is that it’s a very ephemeral condition, a human condition,” said Ekpuk, who uses chalk with the idea that it will all be wiped away at some point. “It continues to change and to be affected by circumstances.”
The Memphis mural will stand as the centerpiece of an effort that has an ambitious goal in limited space and limited items. While Ekpuk is thinking about the items to come as he creates the mural, the items the museum is considering for the space are being selected with his style and imagery in mind. According to Pacini, it is impossible to convey the entire essence of ‘African Art’ with its many different styles in such a small space, and so the goal is for Ekpuk to produce something that asks some meaningful questions about bigger pictures that apply across the continent to give people ways to think about art of African origin.