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5 Things to Know About Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos

POSTED: 15 February 2024

Introducing Autograph’s new exhibition by Wilfred Ukpong and answering five questions that are key to the show

Our current exhibition, Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos by Wilfred Ukpong, consists of visual meditations on the environmental crisis in the Niger Delta, utilising aspects of Afrofuturism and mysticism. The free exhibition is on display at Autograph until 1 June 2024.

Here we answer five quick questions that are key to the show.

1. who is wilfred ukpong?

Wilfred Ukpong is a French Nigerian interdisciplinary artist and researcher whose distinctive socially engaged practice utilises several interwoven mediums including photography, film, sculpture, performance and creative workshops to tackle pertinent social issues with community participation and intervention.

Ukpong’s father worked for ExxonMobil – an American multinational oil company – and expected his offspring to follow in his steps. While Ukpong's siblings went on to become chemical engineers working for ExxonMobil and Shell, Ukpong was unable to look past the crisis of environmental degradation that was encompassing his homeland, the Niger Delta, and instead decided to turn to art to create compelling and poetic reflections addressing the situation.

"I strongly believe that we all have responsibility for the world we inhabit. In us, we possess the ability to dream of viable ways in which we can act as ‘agents of change’. Together we can dream of building and shaping a sustainable economic and social system that is embedded in an inclusive framework capable of generating and maintaining the conditions of harmonious coexistence against the backdrop of this dreadful vision of dissonance that beholds our future world."
  —  Wilfred Ukpong

2. What is the significance of the Niger Delta?


The Niger Delta incorporates Ukpong’s homeland in Southern Nigeria. Once a major producer of palm oil for British colonisers, the territory is considered the mainstay of the Nigerian economy for its large oil reserves and its rich biodiversity due to the presence of rivers, mangroves, freshwater forests, and marine estuaries. In recent years, the region has been at the centre of environmental justice campaigns, with concerns over pollution caused by major spills and flares at the hands of oil and gas industry giants.

3. What kind of artwork is in the exhibition?

The exhibition consists of a series of 10 large-scale photographic works and two films. Through the work, Ukpong draws on historical and personal archives, ecology politics and indigenous environmentalism to demonstrate how artmaking can be used as a tool for social empowerment and to confront continued, aggressive colonial practices.


Earth Sounds [still], 2021

FUTURE-WORLD-EXV [still], 2019

Earth Sounds is a 30-minute-long performance-based film work, in which Ukpong, flanked by two masked women carrying heraldic black flags, embarks on a ritual journey across a narrow, sheltered waterway. The artist takes a shamanic role, invoking spiritual energies to protect the endangered ecological landscape of the Niger Delta from crude oil spillages and environmental devastated. Earth Sounds’ visual narrative is twinned with an affecting score, incorporating speculative soundscape, music, chants, incantations, and performance objects.

FUTURE-WORLD-EXV is a short film set in a speculative future, which follows an oilman who becomes torn between pursuing his industrial duties and hunting visions on the escalating environmental crisis. He finds his fate in the hands of indigenous people who live in a water environment and worship a sea goddess. The film explores and re-imagines the art of filmmaking as an extended practice with a social focus. Over the course of 16 minutes, a poetic and fragmented dreamscape narrative unfolds, tied together with text, original musical scores, and interlays of archival footage in the absence of dialogue.

4. What is Afrofuturism?

Afrofuturism, or Africanfuturism, explores issues of science and technology in conversation with African (and diasporic) cultures, to explore alternate histories or futures. As a genre, it is often associated with science fiction and fantasy. Ukpong’s exhibition draws on and explores aspects of Afrofuturism and mysticism, using a futuristic lens to underscore the need to better understand the detrimental impact of extracting natural resources on both people and the land.

FUTURE-WORLD-EXV [film still], 2019

The artist explains: "Exploring the concept of Afrofuturism through my work is a way of envisioning a society free from social bondages and political oppression. It’s important to showcase the ways in which artistic, cultural, and technological progress in the African continent are reimagining perspectives on environmental crises, social injustice, race, gender, identity, and the body in the 21st century ... to play on a larger context of work that takes traditions, local symbolism and myths from the past, to speculate on the future as a way of informing our actions in the present."

5. What role does social engagement play in the work?

Driven by a profound desire to effect change, the artist has worked with more than two hundred young people from marginalised, oil-producing communities around the Niger Delta to collectively address the historical and environmental issues in the oil-rich region. Many of these young people also feature in or have assisted on the production of the works that you can see in the exhibition.

Between 2010 and 2017 Ukpong initiated a series of creative workshops that sought to enable young people to discover and explore their artistic abilities and capacities as social agents to make a positive impact on the world. In designing these workshops, Ukpong drew inspiration from the conceptual frameworks developed by the American artist and critic Suzi Gablik and German artist, scholar, social critic, and activist Joseph Beuys. The activities in the workshops promoted creative skills in photography, film, acting, fashion and graphic design and considered the ways that participants could use these skills to produce environmental interventions and artworks that could become forms of social and creative enterprise.

part of the exhibition


Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos

16 Feb – 1 Jun 2024
Free exhibition

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Banner image: Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos exhibition at Autograph. 16 February - 1 June 2024. Curated by Mark Sealy. Photograph by Kate Elliott.

Images on page: 1) Wilfred Ukpong. Courtesy the artist. 2) Wilfred Ukpong, At the Left Side of the Delta, I Stand Tall To Hail Your Grand Entry, from the series Blazing Century 1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos, 2017. 3) Wilfred Ukpong, film still from Earth Sounds, 2021. 4 - 5) Wilfred Ukpong, film still from FUTURE-WORLD-EXV, 2017.

Other images on page: 1) Wilfred Ukpong, The Advent of the Visionaries-A Screen to Behold, from the series Blazing Century 1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos, 2017. 2) Wilfred Ukpong, film still from Earth Sounds, 2021.