Section Navigation

African Art Symposium: Symbol and Surface held April 6 at Appalachian

BOONE—Appalachian State University’s Catherine J. Smith Gallery and Department of Art present the African Art Symposium: Symbol and Surface on Saturday, April 6. This symposium is held in conjunction with the opening of dual exhibits at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts (TCVA) on campus. The event will take placefrom 1 – 5:30 p.m. in the TCVA Lecture Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

The symposium will feature four speakers who will expand on the themes of the exhibits. One exhibition features the work of the contemporary Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk; the second explores an indigo-dyed cloth called ukara. Ukara is used by members of a secret society called Ekpe in the Cross River area of Southeastern Nigeria. Ukara cloth and the works of Victor Ekpuk often include symbols called nsibidi, and it is the use of nsibidi that links the two shows.

The symposium is presented as part of the scholarly research of Dr. Eli Bentor, professor of African art history, and is sponsored and organized by the Catherine J. Smith Gallery and the Department of Art with support from the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts.

Program and speakers

1 p.m. – Dr. Jordan A. Fenton, “Beyond the Ukara Threshold: Approaching the Ekpe/Mgbe Nsibidi Matrix”
Fenton is an assistant professor of art history at Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University. His 15 months of fieldwork and research investigation into masquerade culture and nsibidi in Calabar, Nigeria, was funded by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Disertation Research Abroad program, two Foreign Language Area Studies grants and the Smithsonian Institution. He is currently working towards his first book tentatively titled “Performing City: Masquerade, Space, and Power in Calabar, Nigeria.”
2 p.m. – Dr. Eli Bentor, “History of Ukara”
Bentor is a professor of art history at Appalachian. His research of masquerade festivals in Southeastern Nigeria focuses on the way that history is reflected and negotiated at the Aro Ikeji festival. He has been published on various aspects of Nigerian art history in African Art, The Journal of Religion in Africa, and other publications. In 2008–09 he was a Senior Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and received the Cristián Samper Outstanding Fellow Award from the Smithsonian Institution.
3 – 3:30 p.m. – Intermission with refreshments: Mayer Gallery, TCVA
3:30 p.m. – Victor Ekpuk, “Drawing Memories”
Ekpuk is an established Nigerian artist based in Washington, D.C., whose art responds to his cultural background, the realities of his homeland and his experiences as a global artist. Ekpuk’s art emerges from an exploration of nsibidi “traditional” graphics and writing systems in Nigeria, and evolves to embrace a wider spectrum of meaning rooted in African and global contemporary art discourses. Guided by the aesthetic philosophy of nsibidi, where sign systems are used to convey ideas, Ekpuk reimagines graphic symbols from diverse cultures to form a personal style of mark-making that results in the interplay of art and writing.
4:30 p.m. – Catherine McKinley, “Between Life and Death: Sublime Indigo”
McKinley, a former Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, West Africa, is the author of the forthcoming “The African Lookbook: A History in Moments in Style” and “Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World,” “The Book of Sarahs: A Family in Parts,” and the anthology “Afrekete.” Her articles on African fashion history have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Hand/Eye, and Sarah Lawrence Magazine. She is pursuing a graduate degree at New York University in 20th century photography and costume studies with a special interest in African portraiture.

The Catherine J. Smith Gallery is closed for renovations through August 2013. Exhibitions and programs take place this year at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts and on the Appalachian campus unless otherwise noted. Admission is free for all events and programs. The gallery office is temporarily located in Wey Hall room 210A on campus. For more information, call 828-262-7338 or visit

The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts is located at 423 West King St., in Boone. The museum is open Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and on Friday from noon. – 8 p.m. Parking is available nearby on King Street and in the parking deck on College Street located behind the center. For more information, call 828-262-3017 or visit