Wilfred Ukpong, an Oxford-based French-Nigerian interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and filmmaker, is currently having his solo exhibition, entitled Blazing Century at Alliance Francaise, Lagos, Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The exhibition is curated by Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP London and will be exhibited at various art and cultural venues in Paris, London, New York and Houston during the FotoFest Biennial 2020 central exhibition, African Cosmologies. The exhibition runs till next weekend.
Ukpong explains BC-1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos is conceived and developed from a working series Blazing Century-1, the first installment in his ten-part multi-faceted art project entitled Blazing Century.
“Each series of Blazing Century (titled BC1 to BC10), is site-specific and set within a geographical location often embroiled in socio-political and environmental issues and filtered through fictional and futuristic lenses that redefine art’s role in building, shaping and imagining the future.
He explains further that Blazing Century 1 is a socially-engaged art project created between 2010 and 2017 in the Niger-Delta, his place of birth in Southern Nigeria. The project deals with contextual issues facing the embattled region, best known as an “oil-rich’ territory that sustains much oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities by various multinational corporations, yet historically distraught with decades of political corruption, poor infrastructures, community disputes, youth restiveness, high mortality rates, unemployment and more than 50 years of environmental degradation.
In this project, he worked alongside more than 100 marginalised community youths engaged as active participants and collaborators in creative workshops that utilised both art and filmmaking as tools of empowerment, development, and change. While addressing topical socio-environmental issues, this culminating art installation and film screening encapsulates communal histories and explores cosmological paradigms drawn from myths, rites, norms, cognitive mappings, and stellar constellation along with my personal vision to create a speculative dimension of the Niger-Delta through complex metaphors of hope and despair that imagine an otherworldly vision and narratives of the future.
Through compelling visual stylisation, Ukpong’s work creates a captivating otherworldly cosmos, pulsing with concepts of imagination, agency, transformation, and imbued with some of the most profound historical, ecological, and socio-political issues of our present and the future. In this series, dominant colours; red and black reflect the violence of spilled blood and its source; crude oil, while yellow represents the hope for a better future.
A culminating travelling exhibition, BC-1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos features an installation of fine art photography, digital film, sculpture and is complemented by a series of compelling street performance interventions and a creative vision workshop for the young audience.
Talking about his project, Ukpong says “the project is an earnest desire to show that the Niger-Delta region is not reducible to its oil and gas exploration and production activities, but a rich cosmological landscape, thus a source of cultural inspiration for its people and artists in Nigeria and the Diaspora. Using art, in the framework of social sculpture and social practice, that is, through creative and experimental workshop activities that encourage community youths to deepen and expand their understanding of their social potentials as ‘agents of social and environmental change’.
Ukpong has leveraged the exhibition as a “critical space” to reflect on the contemporary condition of coexistence in the Niger-delta, while also inspiring cross-cultural dialogue and conversations on indigenous environmentalism that envisions a humane, culturally sustainable and ecologically viable future-cosmos.
He notes proceeds from the exhibitions and commissions will be used to fund the development of ongoing construction of Ukpong’s newly initiated Arts & Creative Academy, aimed at supporting the budding talents of disadvantaged youths in the region.
Curator of the exhibition, Mark Sealy, has stated that Cosmic Travellers, such as Wilfred Ukpong call forth non-prescriptive, non-linear readings of the past and demand that the kaleidoscopic condition of personal, cultural and national memory is forged into new landscapes inhabiting different forms of beings.
For him, “Ukpong’s visual world is a place of no one direction, no solid-state as in the realm of African cosmologies, political memory functions and agitates within personal and political space, positioning both the audience and the maker not as subjects fixed in any given moment, but as active time-bending agents continuously engaged across different spaces, temporalities, and universes. This is where repressed knowledge is free and alive, shared and embraced and nothing is history as everything that existed in the past is alive in the present remolding, reworking and rethinking our humanity.
“Within the cosmos of Ukpong’s praxis, his otherworldly outsiderism becomes a form of future thinking and being. His subjects function as time lords bringing back and forth that which has been lost, silenced, stolen and overlooked and part of their transgressive nature involves taking apart the past in the present to forge new futures and claim new rights.
“Here gods and different beings are rendered not as external and distance but as part of the human representational receptive whole. In these external and internal multiverse spaces; to embrace and to love all that which is strange and to treat that which is unfamiliar with respect and hospitality is by way of being human an act restorative de-colonial care.”
Ukong’s extended art practice spans academic research, photography, film, sculpture, installation, music/sound, and performance while incorporating a studio-based practice with connective social engagement, tackling pertinent socio-political and environmental issues with community participation and intervention.
His long term project in the Niger-Delta, Blazing Century 1, received a special grant from the Prince Claus Fund Amsterdam. Ukpong’s short film “Future-World” which won the Golden City Gates Excellence Award at the ITB Berlin in 2018 was screened at the Nigerian Senate to encourage dialogue about environmental change in the Niger-Delta.
Ukpong received his BA and Master’s Degree with distinction from Ecole Supérieure d’Art Lorient, France. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom. His research is focused on developing a model process by creating innovative artistic strategies and creative processes as tools for development and change. His works has been shown in Lagos, Abuja, London, Lorient, Paris, The Hague, and Johannesburg.