Water Carry Me Go Artist Profile: Chinedu Ukabam (Canada/Nigeria)

In anticipation of the fashion-art exhibit Water Carry Me Go, we’ve created a series introducing all of the designers involved. Read the rest of them here.

Chinedu Ukabam (Canada/Nigeria)


Chinedu Ukabam is a Toronto-based designer. He was born in Bristol, UK and raised in Nigeria. He has created and curated work for the Royal Ontario Museum as well as the Nuit Blanche art festival. He is also the creative director behind SUPAFRIK, a traveling pop-up concept that focuses on contemporary African design and culture, blurring the lines between the global and the local since 2011. The goal is to raise awareness about contemporary Africana through art, food, fashion and music. To date, Chinedu has presented installations in Toronto, Washington DC , London and Paris where he co-curated an art show with AFRIKAADA. He just came back from producing the SUPAFRIK New Orleans Weekend, a 4 day run of art/fashion/music events.  Chinedu is the originator, Creative Director and curator of Water Carry Me Go.

What motivated you to create Water Carry Me Go?

This project started out as a plan to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as part of SUPAFRIK’s shop in the Joan Mitchell Cente in New Orleans. The show did not take place in New Orleans, but the idea ended up growing into something much bigger. I am very passionate about connecting Africa with its Diaspora, and this was a great opportunity to do that. Water connects all of humanity.

How did you approach the theme of water for your piece in Water Carry Me Go?

In Nigeria, where I grew up, the myth of Mami Wata was a part of popular culture. She is this woman from the sea who occasionally comes onto land in human form and walks amongst us. She is seductive and beautiful, but she is also dangerous and jealous. I once walked into my aunts dormitory on campus in Enugu, Nigeria, and I immediately ran out of a room because I had seen a woman who was incredibly beautiful-I thought I had seen Mami Wata. It ended up being a woman who went on to become Ms. Nigeria. That’s how engraved in my psyche the idea of Mami Wata was.

While I was initially planning a commemoration for Hurricane Katrina, there was also a lot of discussion in the news about the plight of thousands of African migrants who were drowning at sea. I began thinking about what could drive someone away from their home to take such a risk. My train of thought let me to reflect on the devastating environmental damage caused by oil pollution in the Niger Delta and its affect on the livelihoods of individuals. At the same time, I was reading about Eritrean boat migrants and their rituals of getting tattoos of the Virgin Mary before embarking on their journeys. Slowly, The story of sacred rituals and the sacrifice that is migration started to form. My dress is an offering made by a desperate man to Mama Wata to protect him on the seas before taking off on the dangerous journey.

What does your work space look like right now? Is there anything else you want to add?

My workspace right now is actually not the home studio that I usually work from. We have set up our studio at the BAND Gallery (Black Artist Network in Dialogue). The whole SUPAFRIK team is here, and the studio space is filled with pieces we are working on for Style and Pofile, my installation at the Come Up To My Room design event. Lucy, the co-producer of Water Carry Me Go, has her writings up all over the wall as well. It is organized chaos!

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