The environment Saro-Wiwa refers to is complex and crucial to an understanding of her work—from her plans for MoMA to a five-channel video installation called Karikpo Pipeline (2015), in which male dancers wearing antelope masks perform a playful, acrobatic masquerade on the disused pipelines, wellheads, and other infrastructure of oil extraction nestled into lush but degraded surroundings. Her career took shape in this environment: the Ogoniland region of the Niger River Delta, home of the Ogoni people, of which her family is a part. She was born in its capital city, Port Harcourt, and spent summers there, away from the U.K., where she was raised.
Ogoniland is home to oil-rich plains, which the Royal Dutch Shell oil company capitalized on from 1958 to 1994, pumping its resource without regard for its people and environment. Saro-Wiwa’s father, Ken Saro-Wiwa, took on Shell oil and its collaborator, the Nigerian government. In 1990, he founded the internationally recognized Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to strive nonviolently for civic, economic, and environmental rights for his people. His work led, tragically, to his murder by the Nigerian government in 1995. Saro-Wiwa describes her father as “one of the inventors of Nigeria. A man of letters, a businessman, an education minister, one of the few people who really was a genuine activist and who had love for culture above everything else.”