Blazing Century-1 is the first installment of a ten-part art project entitled Blazing Century, by a Nigerian-born interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and practice-led researcher Wilfred Ukpong. Each series of Ukpong's Blazing Century - titled BC1 to BC10 - is site-specific and set within a geographical location often embroiled in socio-political and environmental issues and filtered through fictional and futuristic lenses that redefine art's role in building and shaping a viable world. Blazing Century-1 was developed between 2010 and 2020 in the Niger Delta, the artist’s place of birth in Southern Nigeria.
This body of work deals with the contemporary social issues facing the Niger Delta. The region was a major palm oil producer for British colonizers and has become an important crude oil exporter to the United States and European countries over the past five decades. The petroleum-rich territory is considered the mainstay of the Nigerian economy for its large oil reserves and its rich biodiversity due to rivers, mangroves, freshwater forests, and marine estuaries that connect with the Atlantic Ocean. Yet the region is impoverished and historically distressed with decades of political corruption, inadequate infrastructures, community disputes, youth restiveness, unemployment, and more than fifty years of environmental degradation and pollution caused by major spills and flares by international oil and gas companies.
Driven by an overarching desire to leave an impact and effect change in his homeland, Ukpong returned to the Niger Delta to develop an artistic project collaborating with the Prince Clause Fund for Culture and Development in Amsterdam. He dedicated several years of his career to extensive research and community intervention projects exploring the art of socially engaged performance and visual storytelling on ecology politics, indigenous environmentalism, and reflections on traditional and contemporary experiences. In working up a participatory practice, the artist uses art and filmmaking as critical tools for youth empowerment, creative development, environmental consciousness, and social change. He worked alongside more than 100 local youths - from various marginalized oil-producing communities - in his creative vision workshops and artistic projects. For the artist, these activities are positioned as an ethical-social imperative and critical emergency response to social conditions in the impoverished oil-rich region. Ukpong creates new narratives of the Niger Delta with visual metaphors and fantasies to propose alternative futures and generate conversations on troubling issues grounded in the heavy-weight political demographics.