At first glance, the piece “Protected Paradise” looks like a typical, even child-like rainbow. But take a closer look and the rainbow’s innocence fades just as quickly as a real one does after a rainstorm. Each of the boldly colored bands is made from carefully bent barbed wire, making a different kind of rainbow that viewers are allowed to look at, but not touch.
Over 20,000 tiny green plastic army men make up “In the Absence of War,” a massive green peace flag. The diptych is made up of two wooden panels and sandpaper, with the old childhood war toys mounted in formation to make a symbol of peace. The little green men are dense in action at the edges, but dissipate to create the anti-war message.
Ukena also works with nails, transforming a vintage wooden bench into a spiky and cryptic message of “TRUST.” With nails pointing up and also hammered in, the viewer has to truly trust Ukena’s design, in order to not get poked! He uses a similar concept with matches, which spell out “WORK” over and over before being burnt in the lower corner—this symbolizes overworking to the point of burning oneself out.
Ukena uses these recycled materials as a way to communicate his quirky and intelligent messages—all the while with a touch of humor to get the viewer smiling.