After a ten years self-imposed hiatus from the art world,WILFRED UKPONG, a renowned Oxford-based multimedia artist and scholar returns to Nigeria with an innovative social art project that is focused on youth empowerment and environmental sustainability through his current project entitled, Blazing Century 1.AGOZINO AGOZINO appraises the project and the artist’s studio trait.
Not only does producing good art work demands imagination, vision and knowledge, it also requires remarkable skills.
Some artists approach this regime of creativity with ease some just cannot do so easily. But Wilfred Ukpong’s upcoming socially-engaged art exhibition shows artists who freely can create works with good message for the society
Ukpong is a former engineering student turn self-taught artist who had a successful art career in Nigeria and was renowned 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 community art projects initiated for more than one hundred community youth participants in his homeland of 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).
Central to these interlinked projects is an architectural work (Art Future Lab), which involves the construction of a creative experimental art space in Akwa Ibom and Lagos using a range of salvaged recycled materials from industrial waste in his model process describe as “environmental sustainability through adaptive repurposing”.
In the effort to bridge the boundaries between art and social life, Ukpong creates artworks and community interventions that explore the potential of both material and social production of art as object, performative, and emancipatory experiences.
These initiatives serve as catalysts in transforming the engage site, its participants, and materials through dialogue, reactivation and empowerment. He employs transdisciplinary research methods and practice to respond to issues of humanitarian concerns. Ukpong’s core artistic practice is deeply rooted in the acts of imagining, building a humane, ecologically sustainable, and equitable viable future.
The working themes for his current work, Blazing Century 1- which the artist describes as a working title that metaphorically underscores a “time for creative imagination” – are among “Youth”, “Health”, “Energy”, and “Environment”. In futuristic and global frameworks, these themes are explored in the upcoming art, sound, and film installation exhibition entitled Future World. The show 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 fifty rare innovative artworks produced between 2012 and 2016.
These artworks are made with a range of waste plastic materials salvaged from the oil and gas sector during Ukpong’s environmental cleanup workshops in the Niger-Delta. The exhibition is planned in conjunction with local and foreign institutions and will be touring important art venues in US, Europe and Asian between July 2016 and December 2017.
The show will be complemented with a series of performance art events catalogue publication, poetry readings and talks that will offer an interesting space for learning, dialogue and entertainment.
Ukpongs project is monumental in scope and also exemplify the most ambitious artistic project in Nigeria that seek to be responsive to social and environmental concerns of our time. The performance part of the project, “Rebirth of a Century” was presented as a two days street intervention during the 56th Venice Biennale in Italy last May.