Mónica Alcázar-Duarte: Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain / Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte: Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain / Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos


February 28, 2024
Mónica Alcázar-Duarte: Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain
Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos
February 16–June 1, 2024
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Two new exhibitions are now open at Autograph: Mónica Alcázar-Duarte’s photographs interweaving indigenous knowledge, colonial legacy and ecological urgency, and Wilfred Ukpong’s visual meditations on the environmental crisis in the Niger Delta.

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte: Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain
Curated by Bindi Vora. Affirming the value and survival of her ancestors’ indigenous knowledge, Mexican-British artist Mónica Alcázar-Duarte examines western society’s obsession with speed, expansion and resource accumulation at a time when ecological disaster looms. She raises critical questions—where does knowledge lie? Who and what is classified?—joining together the threads of dissociated knowledge systems.

The evocative photographs at the core of Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain are set amongst the dying trees of Derbyshire, home of the Industrial Revolution. In these self-portraits, the artist mimics poses from 18th-century Casta paintings, a genre of art made in Mexico during Spanish colonialism to illustrate racist social hierarchies—classifying mixed race individuals within a “caste” system.

Attempting to make complex power structures visible, Alcázar-Duarte intervenes in her photographs. Masks covered in flowers reference both the emblems of empire and plants that are vitally important to endangered bees in the Yucatán. Copper appears throughout the works, a material extracted from Mexico under Spanish colonial rule which today continues to be used in cables as a carrier for the internet globally. Patterning formed by datasets scanned from the faces of the Casta paintings are juxtaposed against the fleur-de-lis: a symbol of the lily connoting monarchy and virtue, which was also used during the colonial era to mark enslaved people as a punishment.

These photographs appear alongside a short film U K’ux Kaj / Heart of sky, Mayan god of storms (2023–24), produced at Maní in the Yucatán Peninsula, the town where the Mayan codices were burned in 1562.  Rooted in the centre of the exhibition is a new installation T’aabal chukChuuk / Embers (2024). Using an algorithm inspired by the collective intelligence of bee colonies, Alcázar-Duarte merges the fleur-de-lis with fragments from the Casta paintings. The resulting fifty-six 3D printed lilies form a garden of technology based in historical classification systems, activated through augmented reality.

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte’s work T’aabal chukChuuk / Embers (2024) is commissioned by Autograph and Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg. U K’ux Kaj / Heart of sky, Mayan god of storms (2023-2024) is supported by The National Geographic Society. 

Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos
Curated by Mark Sealy. 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.

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

Free entry.

Extractivisim/Activism conference: March 13–14, 2024. In partnership with Paul Mellon Centre. Location: The Building Centre, London and online. Book tickets here.

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February 28, 2024

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