US-based Nigerian artist, Victor Ekpuk has made public the acquisition of his paintwork Union of Saint and Venus by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, (NMAAHC).
NMAAHC is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, US. It was established in December 2003.
Ekpuk’s painting Union of Saint and Venus is part of an ongoing body of work, ‘Slave Narratives’ that explores the history of the trans-Atlantic and Trans-Saharan slave trades.
Victor Ekpuk Studio gave this information via its Facebook account:
“Following closely on the heels of the unveiling of his commissioned sculpture, The Face, at the world corporate headquarters of Arab Bank Corporation in Bahrain, Victor Ekpuk has had one of his works acquired by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
“The acquired painting, titled Union of Saint and Venus, which is a part of an ongoing body of work, “Slave Narratives”, explores the history of the trans-Atlantic and Trans-Saharan slave trades.”
Ekpuk came to prominence through his paintings and drawings, which reflect indigenous African philosophies of the Nsibidi and Uli art forms.
What spurred Ekpuk’s interest
However, his interest and subsequent research into race and slavery was sparked by the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas; a celebration which he first encountered as an artist-in-residence at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam. Sinterklaas is a legendary figure based on Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children and his black helper, Zwarte Piet or Black Pete.
Union of Saint and Venus is a response to a portrait of Alessandro de Medici, aka il Moro (“the Moor”), Duke of Florence, one of the subjects on exhibition. Reported to have been born out of a union between Pope Clement VII and an African slave woman, Simonetta da Collevecchio, Alessandro’s nickname was a consequence of his dark complexion.
Ekpuk also describes the painting as a metaphor for the complex interaction between Europeans and Africans, especially in relation to Christianity. These interactions have often involved violence, exploitation, and rape of black bodies.
Ekpuk has works that have been featured in several international and national exhibitions, including; Aicon gallery, New York (2019); Get Up, Stand Up Now, Somerset House, London, UK (2019).