After dedicating seven years of his career to rigorous academic research and artistic interventions through community projects, working alongside rural Niger-Delta youths in creative empowerment initiatives using both art and filmmaking as tools of development and social change, Wilfred Ukpong, a Nigerian-born and Oxford-based multidisciplinary artist, academic researcher and award-winning filmmaker has returned to the Lagos art scene with a monumental and extended body of work entitled Blazing Century 1.
The ongoing exhibition runs till December 1, 2018, at Quintessence Art Gallery, and feature art-photography and video installation showing Ukpong‟s award-winning art-film, Future World. Some of the works includeFlare Kingdom &Spectres from Our Future World, Crude Land, Spill Blood and Hope, Carbon Skin 5, Lamentation among others.
Conceived and developed between 2011 and 2017 in the Niger-Delta region of Southern Nigeria as a socially-engaged art project, Blazing Century 1 is the first installment in a ten-part multi- faceted body of work.
Each series of Blazing Century entitled BC1 to BC10 is site-specific and set within a geographical location often embroiled in social and environmental devastation and is developed on several platforms, including sculpture, photographic and sound installations, performance intervention, film screening, music concert, creative vision workshop, lecture and talk session.
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Ukpong‟s expanded art practice encompasses skills and space development, object making, installation, performance, photography, architecture, music-sound composition, and film-making activities that articulate his broad preoccupation with transdisciplinary, cross-cultural and connective aesthetics practices.
With a special grant from the Prince Clause Fund for Culture and Development in Amsterdam and academic support from Social Sculpture Research Unit in Oxford, Ukpong, in 2010, returned to the contested Niger-Delta region, the place of his birth, to engage disenfranchised youths in marginalized oil-producing communities through a series of creative and artistic workshops that cultivates strategies for developing “agents of socio- environmental change”.
At stake is the creation of “mediated objects, images and sounds” set within a new, alternative future universe in a socially conscious project that posits to redefine Art‟s role in building and shaping a devastated environment. Ukpong engages community youths as collaborators and subjects in activities that generate “alternative narratives” through “imagined possibilities” for a better future in an oil-rich region that has been historically distraught with decades of corruption, politics of energy, poor infrastructures, community disputes, youth restiveness, unemployment and more than fifty years of environmental degradation.
To deal with this complexity at hand, on a broader scale, Ukpong draws from a wide range of influence among the contemporary field of socially engaged art practice that explores transdiciplinary creativity and vision with a social focus. He ventures deeply into the concept of “Social Sculpture” developed by 20th-Century German artist, scholar and social activist, Joseph Beuys who extended the conception of art to the process of building and shaping a sustainable ecologically viable world, and envisioned a strong need and potential for human beings to recognise an expanded form of social art that includes shaping new social forms and structures as artworks and sees the real “capital” of society, as the ‘social capital‟ of an expanded understanding of art.
Ukpong draws together narratives addressing socio-political and ecological crises, the interpretation of history, the shock and promises of capitalism, industrialisation and new technologies, the tumult of cultural deficits and environmental challenges and the storytelling born of unique personal vision and communal experiences.
Wilfred Ukpong is a Nigerian-born multidisciplinary artist, socio-environmental activist, award-winning filmmaker and social practice researcher who lives and works out of Oxford, Paris, Johannesburg and the Niger-Delta.