Critics’ Picks

Victor Ehikhamentor, Priest of chaste reveries, 2019, oil on canvas, 60 x 70".

Victor Ehikhamentor, Priest of chaste reveries, 2019, oil on canvas, 60 x 70".

Lagos

Victor Ehikhamenor

Rele Gallery
5 Military Street, Onikan,VI.
May 19–June 30, 2019

In Nigeria’s twenty-one-million-person capital of commerce and chaos, certainty is in short supply. Residents desire clairvoyance for long-running concerns: Will it rain today? Will there be flash floods? Will traffic leave commuters stuck for six hours? And will the city let my dreams come true? In the twenty canvases in “Daydream Esoterica,” his first solo exhibition here in eight years, Victor Ehikhamenor tries to pin down the beauty and foreboding of Lagosian life.

In the show’s centerpiece, We the people and other dreamers, all works 2019, five boldly outlined female silhouettes hem in legions of smaller silhouettes, as if to suggest that in riches, opportunity, and, yes, people, Lagos is truly endless. Few stretches of 450 square miles pack in this much life, and like navigating the city, looking at these pictures is to get lost in a loop. The gallery walls have been painted a navy bordering on indigo, a hue the artist also uses generously as a base. Ehikhamenor’s faces are contemplative, adrift, aware, his blues washing into and consumed by black.

Directly opposing these works across the room are the diviners and interpreters of dreams. The figures in Chief of twilight reveries and Priest of chaste reveries are less androgynous and more commanding, and more visible are the artist’s signature lines of ancient script—influenced by wall paintings he saw growing up in Benin. In the body of work as a whole, he has used fewer lines, a brighter palette (yellows, pinks), and oil, a departure from his earlier, more labyrinthine acrylic portraits. If the priests are supposed to inject hope, they perform as intended, though it doesn’t last long. Should the average Lagosian find the means to divine the future, for this city, it will never be enough.