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