by Isi Esene
Victor Ehikhamenor needs no elaborate introduction, for those who know the Nigerian art scene; his work has gone far and wide. But for those who don’t, Ehikhamenor is an award-winning visual artist, writer and photographer.
With a deep understanding of the world around him [having lived in the US for about 15 years] and the cultural influence of his childhood, Ehikhamenor churns out artworks and prose with such insight, dexterity and frequency that can make one dizzy.
His short story, The Supreme Command, won the Association of Commonwealth Broadcasters Award and his poetry collection, Sordid Rituals, was published in 2002.
YNaija recently caught up with him in Lagos to speak about his upcoming book, Excuse me, which will be launched later this November. Mr. Ehikhamenor is also exclusively unveiling his book cover design to YNaija.
Please enjoy the interview:
Y!: Who is Victor Ehikhamenor? Introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a Nigerian artist, writer, photographer, news media designer and a few other legal things. I came back to Nigeria to work for NEXT newspapers as the creative director and also worked briefly at Daily Times Nigeria as the CEO/Editor-in-Chief. Apart from painting, photographing, and exhibiting my works around the world, I run a strategic communication and branding firm.
Y!: What inspires your writing?
Thank you. First of all, I strongly believe all inspiration comes from God. But to put things mundanely, daily life inspires me to write. I see, hear, observe and retell my experiences in a readable and interesting way. That is basically what creative non-fiction is all about. When I write fiction, I stretch my imagination and also incorporate some past life experiences, the only difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction allows me to lie terribly and unashamedly like a Nigerian politician without going to confession on a Friday evening at the local church.
Y!: What drives your style of writing?
The driver is comprehensibility and the conductor is palatability. I strive for my readers to understand and relate with what I have to say. I also like making them feel as if they are part of what I am writing about, which some may have experienced as well. Another important driver of my style is the truth that my fellow writers, a lot of them my friend, will read what I write, therefore I strive not to fall their hand – as we say in Nigeria.
Y!: Why did you feel a need to author a book?
Because I am a writer, and that is what writers do.
Y!: What is the book about, I mean, what is its main focus and what is it set to achieve?
Let me quote the book’s synopsis in it is entirety for you but in first person narrative. That will make it easier for our audience and a bit encapsulating…
EXCUSE ME is a compilation of my thoughts, experiences, and keen observations while I was the pioneer creative director of Next newspaper. Most of this beautifully strung together collection of creative nonfiction were first birthed on the pages of the Lagos based newspaper, Next daily, Next on Sunday and 234NEXT.com between 2009-2011. Majority of the content were informed by actual socio-political events that took place within that period of time, while others are informed by my personal experience in my numerous sojourn abroad.
Also interesting are my illustrations and drawings presented throughout the book, especially those in the middle of the book which were done during morning editorial meetings. Look beyond these doodling and you have crucial insight into the élan thinking of the minds behind the short-lived dynamic newspaper. During some of the crucial early editorial meetings at NEXT, I’d draw on the printed minutes while listening or contributing to how we would shape the future of the newspaper. It is also important to note that the drawings kept me awake during the 10am mandatory meetings, after long hours of work the previous day. While some people may regard NEXT as a media house, I strongly believed it was an institution of higher learning for me.
As a regularly widely read columnist and a member of a dynamic group of forward thinking and high achieving individuals, NEXT newspapers provided a new platform for me as a newspaper designer, writer and artist to examine Nigerians and Nigeria at a close range.
Y!: You’ve always been known to lace your write-ups with humour, why did you choose this title for your book though?
Credit my father for that, the worlds best unknown humorist, because his was delivered in the oral tradition style. The humour aspect of my writing I can tell you was totally inherited from my him. My father communicated very serious and grave issues with humour, making it less painful yet impactful for the listener. When I first discovered you could write humour, I appreciated my father’s communication skills more.
The title was the name of my column while writing for NEXT. Actually the original title of my column was EXCUSE ME SIR! But Amma Ogan, my eclectic super-editor back then, believed that I would be speaking to both men and women through my column, so she nicked the “Sir”. I picked the title then and retained it now because it is attention grabbing. E. C. Osondu, a writer and brand expert, whom I have great respect for once said to me “In naming and branding of products you must pick a memorable name, same with titling your stories or books.” Those words always ring in my head whenever I want to name my paintings, stories, or any other product I am creating. I am sure you are going – excuse me! in your head. See – it fits into every situation. Excuse me where were we?
Y!: Was ‘Excuse Me’ published here in Nigeria? What challenges did you face publishing?
Yes it is being published here by Parresia, a young publishing firm based in Lagos. As for challenges not any major one worth talking about. I hope and pray it remains like that. They have been quite efficient in handling my work and I work closely with them because of my knowledge in the publishing business. We compliment each other. But one thing is for sure, publishing in Nigeria is a different animal entirely from what I am used to outside this shore.
Y!: You’ve done book covers for several other authors, how does it feel doing this for yours? Any form of anxiety?
You are right, I have done countless number of covers for well established and famous writers, journals and magazines – not counting the daily and weekly NEXT and Élan magazine covers while I was the creative director at NEXT. Designing mine was nerve-wracking for me. Though I am not self publishing this book, I did not want a situation where because it is the dog’s father that carved horns for all other animals he forgot to carve for his own children, hence dogs don’t have horns.
I had sleepless nights over the cover, but one thing I was sure of from the onset was that it will be predominantly white. But I worked with a very talented and experienced young man. We went through more than twenty different cover designs, ran them by some trusted friends and artists and we “democratically” picked the one I pushed for more, which is the current one. Hopefully the public likes it, the cover of a book is like a wedding gown, it must be right and a breath away from perfection.
Y!: Why did you come up with this interesting design, what informed it? Would you like to share?
Like I said before, I wanted something that will stand out in a shelf full of books, easily recognizable and totally uncluttered. I actually did some research. For months, I would go to a book store, scan the shelf from afar.
One day I asked while at Terra Kulture, I asked my friend Terfa Tilley-Gyado to look at the shelf and tell me what colour is more prominent and visible from where we were sitting – he said white. I nodded. Covers with lot of white space always stand out and it is also trending now in the world of cover designs.
As for the complimenting colours, I used some of the old NEXT colour palette which the newspaper borrowed from my painting “ Labyrinths” in the first instance. It was a form of de ja vu for me again, I wanted to link the book to it’s origins and keep the old spirit alive. And it reminded me of when I was directing the design of the NEXT logo in August 2008 ( Together with Mario Garcia, Dele Olojede, Muhtar Bakare, and Isiaka Gbodiyan) the excitement in the room when we arrived at what we all wanted was electrifying. As for this cover, the young graphic designer I worked with was really awesome and has design countless numbers of covers himself.
Y!: What other writers inspire you and how have they influenced your style?
It depends on what I am writing. I have many favourites in fiction and others in non-fiction. For my kind of satiric/humour creative non-fiction, those that come to mind readily now are Peter Enahoro, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dave Barry, Tony Kornheiser, the late Art Buchwald, and George Burns.
Alibaba, the comedian, first introduced me to George Burns when we just graduated from Ekpoma. We were traveling from Gwagwalada to Garki Abuja together and he gave me George Burns book and warned me – “Soza, don’t read that book inside this bus o, people go think say you don kolo. I did not really understand what he meant. The first paragraph of George Burns had me laughing to crazily, I received some strange stares from fellow passengers. That was my first full encounter with humour writing.
My reading and influence are now very diverse. Top on that list at the moment is Dave Barry, I like the way Dave Barry stick a knife on American’s serious issues and draw laughter instead of blood. That is what I want to do with Nigeria’s outsized reality, be the Dave Barry of Nigeria. When you are done laughing at the issues, you wipe your eyes and then think about it seriously. Satire works perfectly for me, because if you must insult a king, you have to bury that insult in a song of praise.
Y!: So, when is the book coming out?
It will be available as from November 30, 2012 right on time for Christmas shoppers to add to their joyful baskets of gifts.
Y!: Please tell our readers how they can get it to read.
Available in most bookstores in Lagos, Abuja and many other places where good books are sold. It will also be available on Amazon. Or you can send am email to the publishers at [email protected]
Y!: Congratulations on this outing. Now, where do you go from here? What should your readers expect from you?
Thank you. I want to write and publish more books (both fiction and non-fiction), paint and have more exhibitions, design more books, newspapers and magazines, build/nurture future leaders and create employment for others, proffering solution to make our country greater than it is now and be kind to mankind.
As for where do I go from here, only God can really say. But with my own understanding, I am looking up and not down, so that should tell you my direction. Thank you. Y!
See the ‘Excuse Me’ book cover below: