Ekene Ijeoma is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary designer and artist who describes himself as “a designer who codes and a coder who designs.” We first came across Ekene’s work at Design Indaba, where he spoke to the audience about how data can be turned into art and used to address social issues.
“I analyse and collect data about myself and others,” Ekene explained. “It’s another way of seeing the world. I’m constantly struggling to bring the two together.” One way the artist sees the world is though technology. After working commercially on websites and installations for eight years for clients like IBM and Google Creative Lab, he says that he realised that he “wasn’t doing projects that represented my beliefs and values”, so Ekene decided to move from the “commercial” world into the “socially focused world”, depending on commissions, fellowships and residencies to fund his practise. “Instead of just being focused on whatever message a brand or corporation wants to say, now my work is more talking about people,” he told us. “I’m talking about doing work that embodies the human condition and evokes conversation around it. The human condition doesn’t always involve commercial stuff.”
In a post-truth America, Ekene’s preoccupation with data has taken on new meanings. “I think now we’re living in a time where there’s so much non-factual information that data just makes it unquestionable,” he says. “It makes it so that you have to acknowledge these issues. As with a lot of the issues that I work with, there’s no way you can question that the data is there to say that there’s a lack of diversity in design. I like to use data because it’s unquestionable in a lot of ways. It has it’s own issues but still, these are outline issues.”
“I wanted to see technology as poetic not just pragmatic,” he continued. “Data can be beautiful yet insightful.”
Take a closer look at four of Ekene’s recent projects below.
The Ethnic Filter
The Ethnic Filter is a webcam that forces the viewer to confront the lack of diversity in design. Commissioned by AIGA and for Design Census 2016 after they found that in the design industry, 73% of those surveyed identified as white, 9% were Hispanic, 8% Asian and just 3% black. Ekene’s Ethnic Filter blurs webcam images according to the visibility of the ethnic group of the viewer. Those who select the “white” filter can see themselves in full clarity, whereas those who chose the black filter struggle to see their own face.
Interactive installation Wage Islands was commissioned by Storefront for Art and Architecture for Measure. Addressing wage and housing inequality in New York City, the artwork demonstrates where New Yorkers can afford to live based on their hourly wages via a 3D map of the city submerged in murky black water. Users push a button to raise the hourly raise, and reveal more of the city.
The Refugee Project
The Refugee Project is a website which “uses data to look at refugee migration” through an interactive map moving from the present day back to 1975 highlighting where refugees originated from, where they went, and the reasons behind their migration using UN data. “It was the first time you could look at the refugee crisis in a non-linear way,” Ekene notes.
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