Utilising aspects of Afrofuturism and mysticism, artist Wilfred Ukpong creates compelling and poetic reflections on the crisis of environmental degradation and exploitation in the Niger Delta. Drawing on historical and personal archives, ecology politics and indigenous environmentalism, his work demonstrates how artmaking can be used as a tool for social empowerment and to confront continued, aggressive colonial practices.
Once a major producer of palm oil for British colonisers, the Niger Delta 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 and social justice campaigns, challenging the pollution caused by major spills and flares at the hands of oil and gas industry giants.
The works in the exhibition are all set in the Niger Delta, Ukpong’s homeland. Driven by a profound desire to effect change, the artist worked with more than two hundred young people from marginalised, oil-producing communities to collectively address the historical and environmental issues in the oil-rich region. The resulting photographs and film powerfully reference local rituals, ceremonial motifs, and symbols interwoven into a complex future cosmology.
Through a futuristic lens, Ukpong underscores the need to understand the detrimental impact of this extreme extraction on both people and land.
“Community history, ecology politics, indigenous environmentalism, extractive capitalism, and cultural evolution, these meditations on my homeland demonstrate how the art and filmmaking process can be employed to promote youth empowerment, challenge colonial narratives and disrupt systems of knowledge production.”
— Wilfred Ukpong
Free to enter | Deadline 4 March 2024
We're looking to publish new writing that critically engages with the ways in which photography can speak to issues of colonialism and climate justice. The successful applicant will receive a £300 fee, editorial support from Autograph and publication on our website.
Wilfred Ukpong is 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 works have been exhibited at Alliance Française/Mike Adenuga Centre (Nigera), FotoFest, Houston (USA), Institut Français du Nigeria Abuja (Nigeria), MARKK Museum Hamburg (Germany), Pipe Factory Glasgow (UK), Royal Society of Arts, London (UK), Welt Museum Vienna (Austria) amongst others. His long-term project Blazing Century 1 received a special grant from the Prince Claus Fund Amsterdam (2010); his film Future World (2017) won the Golden City Gates Excellence Award at ITB Berlin (2018). Ukpong received his BA/MA in Fine Arts from Ecole Supérieure d'Art Lorient, France and his PhD from Oxford Brookes University (UK). He lives and works between Oxford (UK), Clermont-Ferrand (France), and Eket (Nigeria)
Follow the artist on Instagram.
Blazing Century 1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos formed a prominent part of the group exhibition African Cosmologies: Photography Time and Other, at FotoFest Biennial 2020 in Houston (USA), curated by Mark Sealy. The large-scale show examined the complex relationships between contemporary life in Africa, the African diaspora, and global histories of colonialism, photography, rights and representations.
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list