By Melissa Gill | @melissa.m.gill
Out of 110 applicants, Victor Ehikhamenor, a Nigerian-American artist, photographer and writer, was chosen to be the artist-in-residence at the Neon Museum. His proposal was inspired by the poetry book, “Neon Vernacular,” by Yusef Komunyakaa, who was a black veteran that served in Vietnam. In Komunyakaa’s book, he references race, culture and light. Ehikhamenor’s latest exhibition, “What You Mean To Me,” mirrors the artist’s calming composure and his in-depth studies of history, literature and culture.
From October 26 until its debut on December 17, Ehikhamenor worked on his first Las Vegas collection. Artists in the community collaborated through sharing their poems, statements and short stories with him. To breathe life into his vision, teamwork played an important role. “I believe in teamwork. I believed in collaboration for this to have happened,” Ehikhamenor says. He’s interpreted these creative experiences by shaping them into large-scale drawings, including sculptures and neon tubing. This was the first time he ever worked with neon. In his art, he repurposed pieces from the museum, giving them a new life and meaning. He “bundled” it all together to create a “multilayer[ed] consciousness” in his works.
“Red State, Blue State, Black State, ETC.”
Standing in front of a reimagined flag, combining American and African colors, Ehikhamenor says, “America means different things to different people.” In 2008, he left Maryland to pursue a job in Nigeria. He explained how he flew back to the U.S. just in time to vote this year. When he returned, he expressed how he had not experienced such a polarized country before. With a background in African literature and history, which he studied in both Maryland and Nigeria, he returned more familiar with history shaped by these perspectives. “Seeing the country polarized is something that I have only read [about], you know, [happening] back in the 50s, not to the extent that you see it manifesting again, as if we are doing a maniacal ritual that nobody wishes for.” He created, “Red State, Blue State, Black State, ETC.,” with all these influences in mind. He asks thought-provoking questions about the meaning behind these symbolic colors. “What do these colors really mean?” Ehikhamenor says. “What about the rest of the people building the country that don’t have a color to attach themselves to?”
Reflections on Las Vegas
When asked about his first impressions of Las Vegas compared to his recent experiences as an artist-in-residence, Ehikhamenor says, “I smile when I’m asked that question. I have family here and have been coming here for years. This is the first time I’ve had art here.” He likes the city, the clear skies and the nice people. “Las Vegas’ sky is very blue. Every morning when I wake up light pours into my room.” He notes how the color blue seeps into his art reflecting Vegas.
He also mentioned how the art community here in Las Vegas deserves more support and recognition. “There’s kind of like, I don’t want to call it an underground movement, that needs to blossom and needs institutional backing for them to grow. These places should be written about and this art form talked about from a contemporary perspective.” Passionate about the history that comes with the city’s signage, he wanted his works in the museum to shine a light on that.
Challenges Bringing His Vision to Life
With the support and generosity of the museum and Juhl, a studio where he worked and stayed, he said he didn’t face many challenges creating his art. Although, he mentioned how isolating due to the pandemic affected his experiences. He said he likes to socialize and “feel the energy of the city.” The amount of space overwhelmed him at times, but he was able to make the most of it.
However, an aspect of his creative process that did pose a challenge was crafting art which complemented the pieces already there. He said, “The challenge was how am I going to make work that can speak to the existing works here? I came here everyday to familiarize myself with the space. It’s like going to your grandfather’s house, learning one or two things, how do I hold my own?” When asked about the restoration of the signs, he wanted to emphasize that the old Vegas signs were an art form all in themselves. Ehikhamenor’s exhibition enlightens the mind with significant themes exploring race, history and culture, as he illuminates the world through his art.
Take a virtual tour of the “What You Mean To Me” exhibition here.
Read More About Neon Museum’s Artist-in-Residence Program
If you want to explore more work by Victor Ehikhamenor, check out his official page.
Next: Read A Journey into Light and Sound at Area15.