Wilfred Ukpong is an interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, researcher, and activist. A long-term collaborator with Autograph, we are proud to present this online image gallery of Ukpong’s work, raising urgent questions around environmental degradation, to coincide with the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, COP26.
We're sharing work from four of Ukpong’s recent – and interrelated – bodies of work, all set in the Niger Delta, which 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.
Exploring aspects of Afrofuturism and mysticism, Ukpong combines compelling and poetic reflections on the current crisis of environmental degradation and exploitation in the Niger Delta. Drawing on his historical and personal archives, ecology politics and indigenous environmentalism, these meditations on the crisis demonstrate how artmaking can be used as a tool for social empowerment and to challenge colonial narratives.
"Exploring the concept of Afrofuturism through my work is a way of envisioning a society free from social bondages and political oppression. It deals with evaluating the past to create better conditions for the present and future generations in the Niger Delta."
FUTURE-WORLD-EXV is set in a speculative future, which follows an oilman who becomes torn between pursuing his industrial duties and haunting visions of the escalating environmental crisis. He finds his fate in the hands of a colony of indigenous people who live in a water environment and worship a sea goddess.
Over the course of 16 minutes, FUTURE-WORLD-EXV explores and re-imagines the art of filmmaking as an extended practice with a social focus. The film unfolds a poetic and fragmented dreamscape narrative, tied together with text, original musical scores, and interlays of archival footage in the absence of dialogue.
"The work, for me, is a catalyst for constructive debate that can encourage positive actions through alternative narratives - with visual metaphors and fantasies - used to discuss serious and troubling issues grounded in heavy-weight political demographics."
"This project also serves as a blueprint to guide local, socially engaged oil-producing communities in the Delta to challenge existing oppressive structures ... as a tool to imagine better futures with ample possibilities for a just existence that embraces cultural evolution, technological advancement and a sustainable ecosystem."
"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."
Earth Sounds is a 30 minute long performance-based film work, produced in 2021 with support from Autograph, to coincide with Composing A Cause, an event in collaboration with Wilfred Ukpong and Blazing Century Studios.
In this performance film, 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 from crude oil spillage in the environmentally devastated oil-rich Niger Delta, his homeland in Southern Nigeria.
"The performance film considers the concepts of object-oriented philosophy, new materialism, and African sensibility towards mysticism and ritual objects. In testing the scope of my research through a series of performative interventions, these mediated objects/bodies are forced to collide with my environment while contrasting different forms of power and authority."
Earth Sounds consists of a compelling visual narrative and affecting sonic renditions, incorporating speculative soundscape, music, chants, incantations, and performance objects. Ukpong utilizes an Afro-futurist lens and traditional knowledge from the Global South in a bid to save us from the perils of our time.
"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."
is an interdisciplinary artist who incorporates a studio-based artistic practice with connective social engagement, tackling pertinent social 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 and has been exhibited in international group shows in London, Lorient and The Hague. His film Future World won the Golden City Gates Excellence Award at ITB Berlin in 2018. The film has also been screened at Mash Johannesburg and David Krut Projects, as well as to the Senate of Nigeria in order to encourage a dialogue about environmental change in the Niger Delta. Ukpong is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford Brookes University, and he received his BA and Master’s Degree from Ecole Supérieure d’Art Lorient, France.
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