ZAM Reporter

Until 1 June, 2024 at Autograph, London | Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos

Who could have thought that a world polluted by colonial exploitation would present such a wealth of creative expression? Well, meet Nigerian artist Wilfred Ukpong.

Utilising aspects of Afrofuturism and mysticism, this Nigerian artist 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.

Wilfred Ukpong, The Advent of the Visionaries-A Screen to Behold, 2017

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 local and international 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.

Wilfred Ukpong, By And by, I Will Carry This Burden of Hope, Till the Laments of my Child is Heard #1, 2017

Wilfred Ukpong, said: “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.”

Professor Mark Sealy, curator and director of Autograph, said: “Wilfred Ukpong’s work gets to the heart of
participatory creative practice, and how this can open up complicated
conversations about environmental and colonial politics of our time. Ukpong uses
metaphor and fiction to address the dire situation in the Niger Delta. Autograph
has worked with the artist over several years, and I am delighted to bring this work
to London for the first time.”

Wilfred Ukpong, film still from FUTURE-WORLD-EXV, 2019. 

Through a futuristic lens, Ukpong underscores the need to understand the detrimental impact of this extreme extraction on both people and land.

More information about the exhibition at Autograph ABP here