Whitehot Magazine

An Exhibition by William Ukoh Inaugurates The Launch of New Creative Space "HomeCourt" in Toronto

Image via Rodeo Productions.


Urban space has become increasingly scarce and difficult to access for creatives in major North American cities, and Toronto is no different. The Manhattanization of the city’s downtown core follows a prevailing cycle of gentrification. Neighborhoods once hollowed out by municipal neglect and poverty attract swaths of artists and creatives to cheap housing and studio space. In turn, a creative community arises to reinvigorate blocks of bargain basement real estate in a still edgy part of town — a curiosity that attracts outside attention with its “cool factor”. Inevitably, the party ends with an influx of chain stores, franchises, and real estate capital that inflates property values beyond the reach of the artists whose presence encouraged it. As such, there's now a rising need for spaces and programs that support shared experiences, community building, and creative work. 

HomeCourt is a new, much-needed arts and culture space that has opened its doors in the heart of downtown Toronto. On launch day, HomeCourt hosted an immersive exhibition of multifaceted fashion photographer and film director, William Ukoh, who will also be a featured mentor for its inaugural Artist’s Residency. The residency is a bi-annual program to support and provide resources for the next generation of artists and creatives. Ukoh, a Nigerian-born artist based in the city, is undeniably a global ambassador for Toronto’s art scene with work that has been showcased in both art galleries and fashion magazines including Vogue and GQ. His dramatic, polychromatic style of short films and photography like “First Supper” (2022) — featured at HomeCourt’s launch event through a film screening and screen captures —  have the feel of surrealist Wakandan fever dreams. These transatlantic portals offer a regal sensibility that marries the natural world to the contemporary over a cerebral canvas of earth tones and the ethereal. There is an element of the Afrofuturistic while at the same time being of the present, which as a theme is pretty relevant to the idea of mentorship. 

William Ukoh, First Supper (2022), short film. Courtesy of the artist. 

Speaking with Ukoh about the importance of being a mentor for the next generation of artists, it appears that it’s more about sharing information and just making things easier for people to come to navigate creative industries. This desire to give back seems inspired by his own lack of guidance or access to mentors who could share their experiences. There’s also a feeling that Toronto as a city can be somewhat insular in its support systems. 

“I've seen the same things that people complain about with Toronto, happening in other places, and the only difference between Toronto and those places is in either the volume of opportunity or the quality of opportunities,” says Ukoh. “What that means is we're all probably fighting for a very small pool of things in a city of creators, which necessitates a more collaborative nature in Toronto.” 

This is how everyone finds their own smaller community — the dreaded “clique” — in a city often called out for its cliquish nature. Recalling his own experience, Ukoh got his start working with models that wanted to beef up their portfolios for work, which also put him in contact with makeup artists, hair stylists, and stylists.  When presented with a dearth of affordable creative spaces and opportunities this becomes the standard. 

“To be able to not have some predetermined structure and just be able to play with the medium or use it in different ways was interesting,” says Ukoh, who admits to having to discover many things on his own. “However, if you're trying to get anywhere, it’s still important to reach out to people, and also for people to offer their guidance. Building strong communities in this way could have meaningful long-term benefits for the city as a whole.” 

Ukoh’s theory holds some weight. According to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts brought in more than 1 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy in 2021. This is proof that countries without real investment in their arts infrastructure, and cities like Toronto, are leaving massive amounts of money on the table in the form of creative capital.  And much like mentorship, support can be mutually beneficial.  

“I think having an opportunity to learn can be a two-way street, Ukoh explains. “The person you're mentoring has a fresh perspective that might not be bogged down by the influence of personal experience or how you’ve learned things should be, and that could be a good synergy.” 

As for his choice of First Supper a short film about social anxiety that features Ukoh as a character sitting alone in a room as a party happens outside to inaugurate the launch of HomeCourt, Ukoh thought it would relate to the launch party itself.  

“The character is in his head thinking about all these different things that trigger anxiety in people, and the concept worked with the launch of HomeCourt,” says Ukoh. “Aside from the main hallway where everyone was gathered with music and drinks, there was a smaller room where we had a screening of the film and other quiet light therapy rooms.” In this way, the launch event became a reflection of the themes explored in the film, and according to Ukoh, also relates to his thoughts on mentorship. 

“Anxiety can stop you from reaching out or being proactive, which can culminate in you becoming stagnant and not reaching your full potential,” Ukoh adds, considering how social fear can affect the artist. “So the film speaks to all the different ways anxiety manifests for people, and it just made sense to me to mirror the actual film in real life while making the audience a part of the experience whether they knew it or not.”

Reminiscing about some of the major problems he experienced on his come up, Ukoh can really appreciate the existence of places like HomeCourt, mainly when it comes to affordable and reliable creative space. 

“In my case, studios and the equipment you need to shoot in them can get very expensive, and it's not like you can just go do outdoor shoots in winter because your ideas might not fit that,” bemoans Ukoh. “Aside from that, if you have an idea to do a show in a gallery, they have their shows planned out months and sometimes years ahead. So when HomeCourt was presented, it excited me to know there’s at least one new space, and hopefully one of many, that will pop up in the city, to help build the general artistic community in Toronto.” WM

Byron Armstrong

Byron Armstrong is an award-winning freelance journalist and writer who investigates the intersections between arts and culture, lifestyle, and politics. Find him on Instagram @thebyproduct and on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/byron-armstrong

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