Sunday 15 May 2016

From Diaspora, Ukpong Returns With Art For Social Change

By Tajudeen Sowole
After ten years of professional and academic sojourn in Europe, Wilfred Ukpong takes a break, returning to his native Niger Delta, in South-south of Nigeria where he hopes to make his art impart on the environment as a medium for social engagement.

Wilfred Ukpong (right) with Theaster Gates, an  American Social Practice Artist.

In a project he tagged Blazing Century-1, Ukpong is hoping to blur the line between art and the common people on the street. The artist who is currently in Nigeria is kick-starting the project in Eket, Akwa Ibom State with 50 works produced in four years.

Quite an ambitious project it seems. According to Ukpong, the contents will culminate into a tour exhibition from Nigeria to the U.S spanning July 2016 to 2017.

The focus of Blazing Century-1 include Time for Creative Imagination, Youth, Health, Energy, and Environment. "These initiatives serve as catalysts in transforming the engage site, its participants, and materials through dialogue, reactivation and empowerment," says a curatorial statement. "Ukpong employs trans-disciplinary research methods and practice to respond to issues of humanitarian concerns. His core artistic practice is deeply rooted in the acts of imagining, building a humane, ecologically sustainable, and equitable viable future."

Expected to be contextualised in what is described as "futuristic and global frameworks," the medium and themes include art, sound, and film installation sub-themed Future World. The exhibition "will be installed on a floating barge compartment - designed by the artist - in a coastal shore location in Eket, Akwa Ibom also in the Marina Waters in Lagos Island, and will feature 50 rare innovative artworks produced between 2012 and 2016." Also to be included is a performance show Rebirth of a Century, which was presented in  two days on the street during the 56th Venice Biennale in Italy last year.

  Ukpong's art, in 2010, attracted the attention of Prince Claus, a foundation based in The Netherlands. "I was awarded a Prince Claus grant in form of money to produce Blazing Century 1: Drill," Ukpong recalls during a chat few days ago. He produced the work from September 2010 – November 2012. "BC1: Drill is a socially engaged art process that involves a series of creative workshops and ephemeral performance actions with 100 youth participants in important oil producing locations in the Niger-Delta.  

  “The project investigates and explores trans-disciplinary creativity and vision with a social focus. The aim of this work is to experiment and explore various trans-disciplinary ideas that can facilitate pragmatic and useful platforms to empower the youth (non-artistic individuals in rural communities) to become ‘agents of social and environmental change’, while encouraging conflict resolution and social development in the region."

  The Blazing Century -1 concept is clearly explicit. What is the texture of the sub-theme,  BC1: Future World?  "It is a community art project that explores the creative potential of salvaging and recycling oil and gas wastes into functional objects and artworks through environmental cleanup, creative workshop and art installation that seek to investigate the relationship between art and the environment. The project is developed since 2012 with the creative participation of twenty youths in the Niger-Delta. The aims of this project are to develop and facilitate public and cooperate awareness on environmental sustainability, creative innovation and women empowerment. And will culminate in a travelling art installation exhibition that will be complemented by a series of lectures and catalogue publication."

Ukpong's bio describes him as an Oxford-based artist and scholar with an innovative social art project that is focused on youth empowerment and environmental sustainability.  

  "Ukpong is a former engineering student turn self-taught artist who had a successful art career in Nigeria and was renown for his multimedia works inspired by Nsibidi and Uli pictographs before relocating to France to study Fine art in Ecole Supérieure d’Art, Lorient. Currently a doctoral researcher in Oxford, Ukpong works in a wide range of art practice involving community interventions, architecture, sculpture, painting, performance, poetry, drawing, sound/music and film installation that are focused on ethical, sociocultural and environmental issues of our time. 

  "His works are concerned with the idea of exploring ways in which aesthetic and political ambitions are achieved through his experimental art projects. Through a special grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development in Amsterdam, and research support from the Social Sculpture Research Unit in Oxford, Ukpong has been working since 2010 - between Nigeria and the UK – on a series of socially engaged art projects (workshop, performance and environmental and cleanup activity) initiated for more than one hundred underserved youth participants in coastal communities in the Niger-Delta. 

   "His socially engaged art project works as a creative platform for development and transformation through interlinked creative initiatives among workshop (Youth of Nigeria as Artists of the Future), music/sound project (Red and Black Album), feature film (Rebirth), art exhibition (Future World), performance actions (Rebirth of a Century), and poetry (Bound by Blood)”.

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