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Wilfred Ukpong in Blazing Century

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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 and using both art and film as tools of development and social change, Wilfred Ukpong, the United Kingdom-based multidisciplinary artist, academic researcher and award-winning filmmaker returns to the Lagos art scene with a monumental and extended body of work entitled, Blazing Century 1.

Starting from tomorrow through December 1, Quintessence Art Gallery will present a pop-up exhibition teaser entitled, Blazing Century 1: Flare Kingdom & Specters from Our Future World.

This show will feature art-photography and video installation showing Ukpong’s award-winning art film, Future World.

Spanning between 2011 and 2017, Blazing Century-1 is the first installment in a 10-part multi-faceted body of work. Each part is 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.

With a special grant from Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development in Amsterdam and academic support from Social Sculpture Research Unit in Oxford, Ukpong, in 2010, returned to the Niger Delta region, the place of his birth to engage disenfranchised youths in marginalised oil-producing communities through a series of creative and artistic workshops that cultivates strategies for developing agents of socio- environmental change. “My work is a platform for conversation; a catalyst for transformation and change. I am more interested in advocacy and developing people’s careers and communities,” he said.

In this futuristic body of works, Ukpong deploys 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. He 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 50 years of environmental degradation.

Through recycling of oil and gas industry waste materials among polystyrene, fiberglass, and metals littered along the coastal Niger Delta communities, he turned into art objects and film props as an imperative associated with the idea of necessity which offers an emphasis on agency, intention, and transformation.

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.

The artist visual narrative tends to break away from poverty realism often perpetuated by the western media, by training and developing the talents of local community youths during his creative workshops, and prompt them to envision and act within their collective capacity as agents of change.

In this body of work, dominant colours —- red and black —- reflect the violence of spilled blood and its source; crude oil, while yellow represents the hope for a better future.

The projects will culminate in forms of exhibitions, sites installations, street performance interventions, film screening, music concert, creative workshops and artist talks. From January till June 2019, Ukpong will be presenting the Blazing Century-1 project as a series form of interlinked events in collaboration with various art and cultural institutions in Lagos. There are 16 locations for this show around the world, “I think it is better to start showing in Lagos but not in a single exhibition; there would be performances from about 50 people; there would be space for visual art film, workshop and so on,” he added.

He hopes the exhibition addresses not just the oil companies but the government as well.


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