This was the kind of call that couldn’t be ignored. Wilfred Ukpong was supposed to be an engineer, like his father, a manager for ExxonMobil, and like his siblings too. But all it took was a book, Flash of the Spirit, and everything changed – a vocation that manifested suddently and led him on a path of self-discovery and art making.“It was an illumination, it felt like I really found myself. I felt alive for the first time.”When Ukpong dropped out of engineering to be an artist, he just had the blessing of an important Lagos-based Swiss gallerist and his guts to be trusted. In a way, it felt like home: his dad was fond of photography and his mom was passionate about fashion design. It was like following his parents’ hidden dreams. And the process that made him an artist also led to community building and to a life that was more fulfilling that anything he could ever imagine.Now Ukpong uses his platform and voice to really make a dent into the world. After a debut with sculptural paintings inspired by ideographic writing from Southern Nigeria, the focus shifted on forgotten and disenfranchised communities in the Niger Delta: “I wanted my art to be a catalyst for transformation and change.”That’s how the Blazing Century project takes shape: an alternative universe that redefines an exhausted environment, a collaborative project that facilitate change, where dialogue is encouraged as a practice and discipline. From the Niger delta to Western Cameroon, Ukpong’s work deals with exploited communities, one-sided narratives and tired cliches, and overturns them all. In art’s name, and quite simply, because it’s the right thing to do. The work, with its futuristic, often dystopian aesthetics, is complex and multilayered (it goes from film, to photography, sculpture, installation, performance and workshops), and will ultimately have 10 installments, each set in a different location with a different kind of social or ecological crisis. Wilfred’s work will be on view at the ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL 2021 on 12 March 2021, 18:00 — 19:00. Following the screening of Future – World – EXV (2019) there will be a conversation with the artist, Karen Alexander and Mark Sealy. Click here to register.