Artworks from Across Victor Ekpuk’s Thirty-Year Career to be Shown at the Princeton University Art Museum

The Nigerian-American artist’s work reinvents ancient script to comment on contemporary times

PRINCETON, NJ – Paintings, works on paper, and sculptures by the Nigerian-born, Washington, DC–based artist Victor Ekpuk are on view this summer at the Museum’s Art@Bainbridge gallery.

Victor Ekpuk: Language and Lineage (July 22 through October 8) brings together seventeen works that underscore key aspects of Ekpuk’s practice as a visual artist, illustrator, commentator, and global citizen over his thirty-year career. Ekpuk (born 1964) is known for his expressive multimedia artworks inspired by Nsibidi, an ancient, non-spoken system of communication from the Cross River Basin of Nigeria and Cameroon that features a rich ideographic script. Throughout the exhibition, Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti’s music will be played, providing additional context for Ekpuk’s work.

A key artwork in the exhibition, In Deep Water, was created specifically for Art@Bainbridge. This monumental print on canvas depicts the profile of a head in black marked by indecipherable white symbols. The image of the head—a metaphor for consciousness, memory, and knowledge—was inspired by Ekpuk's visit to a high school in Washington, DC, for at-risk youth that was built in a brutalist style. For the artist, the school’s heavy concrete architecture and prisonlike security systems appeared a harbinger of a somber future. The work’s presentation at Bainbridge House—a colonial-era building with a complex history in relation to slavery—invites viewers to reflect on how context shapes meaning while also reviving the memory of the enslaved descendants of Africans who lived and worked on-site.

“Victor Ekpuk’s artworks speak powerfully to the complexities of the modern world—its gifts and its challenges—through his carefully honed signature style,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum. “We are eager to introduce new audiences to the personal yet universal character of his work across media.”

Inspired by the efficiency of Nsibidi in conveying intricate ideas, Ekpuk combines simplicity of form with complexity of interpretation. “I excavate my own work to create new work,” said Ekpuk. “The background of my works is composed of various forms, and sometimes I go in and take what interests me to create new work.”

Also presented in the exhibition are Ekpuk’s interpretations of symbols from Pan-African traditions, including depictions of kings, queens, the Earth Mother, and the matriarch of the Cross River communities of Southern Nigeria and beyond. For example, Matriarch 2 asserts the essential role of women in transmitting and assimilating cultural values across the African continent. The work was made over an extended period, with Ekpuk deciding to leave the background largely unfinished in a nod to the endless possibilities that matriarchy suggests.

The final works in the exhibition reflect on political turmoil in the world. Still I Rise is a comment on police brutality in the United States and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. Other works refer to Ekpuk’s former career as an illustrator for the Daily Times, a government-run newspaper in Nigeria. Prisoner of Conscience is inspired by a 1994 Daily Times drawing illustrating the grim conditions of Nigerian jails. In 2000 Ekpuk retold the story by replacing the drawing's hatched areas with his own script in which he elaborates on the 1994 military junta takeover of Nigeria’s government and the imprisonment of its elected representatives.

Victor Ekpuk: Language and Lineage is curated by Annabelle Priestley, curatorial assistant, and will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum gallery space Art@Bainbridge from July 22 through October 8, 2023.


About Art@Bainbridge

Art@Bainbridge is made possible through the generous support of the Virginia and Bagley Wright, Class of 1946, Program Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art; the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund for American Art; Joshua R. Slocum, Class of 1998, and Sara Slocum; Rachelle Belfer Malkin, Class of 1986, and Anthony E. Malkin; Barbara and Gerald Essig; Gene Locks, Class of 1959, and Sueyun Locks; and Ivy Beth Lewis. Additional support for this exhibition is provided by the Africa World Initiative; the Program in African Studies; the Graduate School—Access, Diversity and Inclusion; the Department of African American Studies; the Princeton African Humanities Colloquium; the Department of Music; and the Program in Linguistics.

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, featuring collections that have grown to include more than 114,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world.

The main Museum building is currently closed for the construction of a bold and welcoming new building, designed by Adjaye Associates in collaboration with executive architects Cooper Robertson, and slated to open in spring 2025.

Art on Hulfish, a gallery project of the Art Museum located at 11 Hulfish Street, is open daily.

Art@Bainbridge, a gallery project at 158 Nassau Street, is open Tuesday through Sunday.

Admission to both galleries is free.

Please visit the Museum’s website for digital access to the collections, a diverse portfolio of programs, and details on visiting our downtown galleries. The Museum Store in Palmer Square, located at 56 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton, is open daily, or shop online at

Media Contact: María Huiza,, 917.355.5286