St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, has today unveiled the bold new artwork Still Standing by Nigerian-born artist, Victor Ehikhamenor, on display in the crypt from 17 February to 14 May 2022. The specially-commissioned mixed-media work which has been has been acquired by the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, forms part of 50 Monuments in 50 Voices, a partnership between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Department of History of Art at the University of York to invite contemporary artists, poets, musicians, theologians, performers and academics to showcase their individual responses to 50 historic monuments across the Cathedral.
Based in Lagos, Nigeria, and Maryland, USA, Ehikhamenor is renowned for his broad practice comprising painting, sculpture, photography, and unique works on paper. His richly-patterned works use symbolism from both traditional Edo religion and Catholicism, reflecting on the confluence of African and Western cultures. Still Standing combines rosary beads and Benin bronze hip ornament masks to depict an Oba (King) of Benin.
Still Standing has been commissioned and curated by Dan Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at University of Oxford and Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum and Simon Carter, Head of Collections at St Paul’s Cathedral. The installation responds to a brass memorial panel to Admiral Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson (1843-1910) installed in the Nelson Chamber of the Cathedral’s Crypt in 1913. As the panel notes, Rawson had a long career in the Royal Navy, which culminated in his commanding the Benin Expedition of 1897, 125 years ago.
St Paul’s is a national landmark and the cathedral church for the Diocese of London. It houses over 200 monuments to significant figures throughout the ages, many made by the finest sculptors of the day and installed by the public. Among the people represented on memorials around the cathedral are giants of the arts, sciences, politics and military, from Admiral Nelson to Florence Nightingale. The memorials and sculptures were made by some of the finest artists of the day from John Flaxman to Augustus Rodin.
50 Monuments in 50 Voices launched on 1 December 2021 to present a weekly series of audio, visual and musical works responding to the Cathedral’s monuments from 1796 to 1916. Encompassing the Napoleonic wars up to the First World War, the series features memorials of eminent Victorian philanthropist Maria Hackett, the Duke of Wellington, and polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, amongst others. Forthcoming voices include comedian Frank Skinner, and musician and presenter Cerys Matthews, alongside a range of participants from different creative, intellectual, social, cultural, political, and theological backgrounds.
The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Reverend Dr David Ison says, “When they visit St Paul’s, many people are struck by the vast number of monuments and memorials to past figures. The 50 Monuments in 50 Voices project invites responses to these memorials and the people they commemorate, from an array of different perspectives. As part of that project, the installation of Victor Ehikhamenor’s artwork contributes to the ongoing task of understanding the complexities of these monuments in 21st-century Britain.”
Artist Victor Ehikhamenor says “History never sleeps nor slumbers. For me to be responding to the memorial brass of Admiral Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson who led British troops in the sacking of the Benin Kingdom 125 years ago is a testament to this. The installation Still Standing was inspired by the resolute Oba Ovonramwen who was the reigning king of Benin Kingdom at the time of the expedition, but the artwork also memorializes the citizens and unknown gallant Benin soldiers who lost their lives in 1897 as well as the vibrant continuity of the kingdom till this day. I hope that we, the descendants of innumerable uncomfortable thorny pasts, will begin to have meaningful and balanced conversations through projects such as 50 Monuments in 50 Voices.”
Professor Dan Hicks, co-curator of the installation, said, “Installed on the 125th anniversary of the attack on Benin City, this specially-commissioned work opens up a unique space for remembrance and reflection. Still Standing reminds us of the ongoing nature of the rich artistic traditions of Benin, of the enduring legacies and losses of colonial war, and of the ability of art to help us reconcile the past and the present.”
Professor Jason Edwards from the University of York and project lead on the Pantheons project says, “As well as detailing Rawson’s involvement in some of the most controversial military campaigns of the Nineteenth Century, including the Second Opium War in China and the destruction of Benin City in Benin in 1897, his bronze, brass, enamel, and marble memorial, by the little-known Army and Navy Company, is a significant artwork in its own right. Examined closely, its complex iconography includes English oak leaves and acorns, raven heads, Arabic script, a fort with a moat, Corinthian pilasters, dolphins, the Royal Humane Society silver medal, a jaunty naval officer, and a kangaroo, indicating Rawson’s last post as Governor of New South Wales. But, as the Pantheons project and Cathedral recognise, the monument only partially tells a difficult story, which must, today, be supplemented with other voices, other key perspectives”.
Specially commissioned for this installation at St Paul’s, with generous support from Art Fund, Still Standing will find a permanent home at the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, which holds one of the most significant collections of Benin royal artworks.
For more information and to view the weekly contributions to 50 Monuments in 50 Voices, including Still Standing by Victor Ehikhamenor, visit the Pantheons project website at https://pantheons-st-pauls.york.ac.uk/ and on the Pantheons project Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.
Notes to Editors
For more information and a selection of images, please contact [email protected]
About 50 Monuments in 50 Voices
50 Monuments in 50 Voices is part of Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral, c.1796-1916, a three-year project launched in autumn 2019, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, centring upon a digital interpretation scheme of the monuments at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The voices will be released online from 1 December 2021 and throughout 2022. Recent voices have included Poet Imtiaz Dharker, Historian and Broadcaster Janina Ramirez, and vegan activist Emelia Quinn.
About Victor Ehikhamenor
Victor Ehikhamenor is a Nigerian multimedia artist, photographer, and writer. He has been prolific in producing abstract, symbolic, and politically/historically motivated works. Ehikhamenor’s work employs unexpected techniques of making and unmaking, of building images and shapes, and or constructing figurative works from complex, illegible ancient scripts, tears and holes, Catholic symbols — to create portraits of African people and depict African spaces. Using materials and iconography that embrace the traditions and histories of Africa while integrating elements that allude to the continent’s colonial past and Nigeria’s complex geopolitical position as an oil-producing nation, the scenes and figures depicted are often figurative and a mix of symbols that straddle his Benin Kingdom traditions and Catholic upbringing. This duality builds narratives that comment on the complex cultural and political reality of Nigerians in their private and public lives, both historically and today.
A 2020 National Artist in Residence at the Neon Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada, Ehikhamenor is also a 2016 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellow. He has held several solo exhibitions and his works have been included in numerous group exhibitions and biennales, including The 57th Venice Biennale as part of the Nigerian Pavilion (2017), 5th Mediations Biennale in Poznan, Poland (2016), The 12th Dak’art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal (2016), Biennale Jogja XIII, Indonesia (2015), Fondacion Blachere, France, (2019), Pinakothek Der Moderne, Munich, Germany, (2021); Rele gallery, Lagos ; Retro-Africa gallery, Abuja, Nigeria; Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, and MARKK Museum, Hamburg, Germany (2022). As a writer, he has published fiction and critical essays with academic journals, magazines, and newspapers around the world including New York Times, Guernica Magazine, BBC, CNN Online, Washington Post, etc. Ehikhamenor is the founder of Angels and Muse, a thought laboratory dedicated to the promotion and development of contemporary African art and literature in Lagos, Nigeria.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century, St Paul’s Cathedral is a vibrant working church, a national treasure and a London icon. It is the most recent building on a site where there has been a cathedral for London for over 1400 years.
Our building provides a space for reflection, discovery, learning and debate. In normal times we welcome over a million people through our doors each year to worship and pray, to sightsee, and to attend concerts, educational events and performing arts.
Alongside dedicated clergy and staff, we are sustained by a community of volunteers who welcome visitors, lead tours, ring our bells, maintain our collections and more. We provide comfort and commemoration through our national services, and stand as an enduring symbol of hope – for those of all faiths and none.
About the Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum is the University of Oxford’s Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology. Professor Dan Hicks, who co-curated Still Standing, is the Museum’s Curator of World Archaeology. Established in 1884, it now has more than 700,000 objects in its collections and is in the top 100 most visited museums in the UK, welcoming approximately half a million visitors each year. The Museum was shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2019 for its creative programmes of reinvention and reinterpretation, which show a much-loved Victorian space challenging perceptions and demonstrating the vital role museums can play in contemporary society. https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/ ; Twitter: @Pitt_Rivers
University of York
The University of York is a high-performing, research intensive Russell Group university and one of the world’s premier institutions for inspirational and life-changing research. Its focus on teaching and research excellence has resulted in consistently high rankings in the UK and a first-class reputation across the globe. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022 it was in the world top 100 for Arts and Humanities. The Department of History of Art was placed first for research impact among UK History of Art departments in Times Higher Education’s ranking of the last Research Excellence Framework (REF) results (2014).
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.
Visit the AHRC website at: ahrc.ukri.org, on Twitter at @ahrcpress, and on Facebook search for the Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. In response to Covid-19 Art Fund made £3.6 million in urgent funding available to support museums through reopening and beyond, including Respond and Reimagine grants to help meet immediate need and reimagine future ways of working. A further £2 million has been made available in 2021 for Reimagine projects. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 131,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year. The winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021 is Firstsite in Colchester.