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Africa Now! Emerging Talents from a continent on the move: Part 2

3 Apr

In a previous Africa Now! post dated March 1, 2009 I introduced the fashion designs of Deola Sagoe.


In this Africa Now! post I focus on another example of contemporary African art.

Generally United States’ museums display static exhibits of traditional African arts (masks, figures, regalia, textiles, other forms of ornamentation and household and personal objects). I know because I have given many sixth graders tours of African art. The art of Africa Now! is not remotely suggested in these museums. An Africa Now! U.S. tour would benefit the US enormously.

To be sure, there is no single contemporary art in Africa. Africa is diverse. Africa is huge. It comprises many countries, each having diverse languages, customs, cultures and arts. Therefore the contemporary art of Africa is not singular. Africa Now!, is as diverse as the continent.

This post focuses on You be Me, I be You, a signature work of the show by Nigerian

artist Victor Epkpuk.


Victor is shown here describing a reproduction of his work during a group tour of Africa Now! at the World Bank.

You be Me, I be You is signature because it is featured in Africa Now! promotional materials.



You Be me, I be You,
2007, Acrylic on wood, 242cm x 182cm (diptych)
© victor ekpuk

This work illustrates two separate head shaped forms facing each other. One form has a white field bearing black symbols. The opposing figure has a black field bearing white symbols. The symbols are derived from Nsibidi. Nsibidi is an indigenous African system of writing. The various symbols appearing in one form do not all repeat in the other form. Those symbols that do repeat appear in different positions in each form. These differences suggest to me that we are different but at the same time substantially the same. This echoes aspects of many philosophies and religions.

The image is figuratively abstract. It is also conceptual to those who read Nsibidi. Those who cannot are conceptually “locked out.” For them the image is partly nonrepresentational. This might be why Victor believes that most often the narrative inspired by a work is better perceived when felt rather than read. Based on my research I believe he intends You Be me, I be You convey feelings that:

In these days of fear and wars, tolerance should not only be about accommodating the few differences in others, but recognizing and embracing our many similarities. If we only stop to look, we might see our laughter, love, fear and pain in another's eyes. Perhaps then we may grant others the respect, kindness and freedom that we are willing to allow our own kind and ourselves.

If that is his intent he succeeds.


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