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In the Loop
Faculty News : Jul 10, 2019

First Maker in Residence to lead creative projects on cultural production in diasporic communities

By Brandon McKinley (BMUS BSPR '17)

Nigerian choreographer, performer and curator Qudus Onikeku is joining the University of Florida College of the Arts this fall as its first Maker in Residence.

Onikeku, an acclaimed dancer and founder of multiple international community arts organizations, will develop work and lead projects that will help shape the launch of the college’s new center positioned at the intersections of arts, migration and entrepreneurship.

The new center, which will be realized in Fall 2019, is a response to UF Provost Joseph Glover’s call for “moonshots,” big ideas aimed at solving some of society’s most urgent problems.

The College of the Arts’ proposal, called “Migration Redefined: Arts, Diaspora and Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century,” rallies the expertise of faculty across the university to address the lack of infrastructure for the arts and cultural economy of migratory and diasporic communities in Florida and beyond.

“Such initiative as this center is very important, as it forces us to query everything again,” Onikeku said. “I believe that, just like politics, knowledge institutions have taken some time to realize that there is a gap between the intellectual capital that they bequeath and the people's actual lives that they analyze. But new queries—such as this center—I’m persuaded will irrigate academia and the social body in a meaningful way to the extent of triggering actual change.”

Onikeku will work alongside the center’s director, Osubi Craig, for a 3-year residency. His efforts will be particularly focused on cultural production in diasporic communities.

Together with the university’s faculty and communities both local and global, Onikeku and Craig will define and implement the center’s initiatives over the coming years.

“The knowledge of space for a great dancer is the knowledge of freedom,” Onikeku said, “so the idea of having a space to think, to make and to rehearse the future is such a luxury, and here, this position offers that possibility of forming a tribe with other creatives, thinkers, nomads, catalysts and entrepreneurs, of different kinds, working together as a collective under a transformative platform. It all sounds too much like my kind of utopia.”

Onikeku is the founder and artistic director of YK Projects in Paris, France, as well as QDanceCenter in Lagos, Nigeria, which produces DanceGATHERING. Onikeku has co-curated this annual art gathering and performance lab with College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu, which is where he first learned of the Maker in Residence position at UF. 

At the age of 5, Onikeku began practicing acrobatics, which led to his discovery of dance at 13. He graduated from Ecole​​ nationale Superieur des arts du cirque (Higher National School of Circus Arts) in France.

“Personally, I create a movement identity that fuses dance and acrobatics,” he said, “while I make the guiding philosophies of Yoruba cultural and science fiction my basis and combining it with several other influences to weave a certain understanding of the human condition.”

Onikeku has performed for multiple international tours, including in Levée des Conflit, choreographed by Boris Charmatz and Babel(words), choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

He has presented dance and movement masterclasses across the globe in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

While he is known for his choreography and dance performances, Onikeku says his work has found a home within different media, from performance and installation to curating and community organizing.

“My interest in moving from making ‘art works’ to making art as practice demonstrates the possibility of creating alternative economies and practicing the future together,” Onikeku said, “until this ephemeral thing we engage in becomes a tipping point in history, practically creating new forms of communal spaces of magic. Spaces not solely physical, but equally philosophical, and I dare say spiritual.”

As the college’s first Maker in Residence, Onikeku will spend three years producing creative works and generating and experimenting ideas aimed at activating and weaving together local and global networks. His work will involve collaborations with students, faculty and community members.

“I suspect that what the college is creating with this center will develop techniques that will bring about the clash of opposites,” he said, “which will go a long way in unsettling us from our conventional wisdom, affording us an opportunity to penetrate and reflect, perhaps anew, on what we have taken for granted for so long.”

Onikeku begins his residency on August 16.

“I look forward to the void,” Onikeku said, “to emptying myself unto the opportunities that this process promises. I wouldn’t have been this ecstatic about the offer if anyone already knew what to expect from these three years of dreaming the unthinkable into reality.”

Learn more about Qudus Onikeku on his website