Wura-Natasha Ogunji

Visual artist, Performer

In her artist presentation, Days of Being Free, Wura-Natasha Ogunji will discuss her performance work which centers around the presence of women in public space.  From Lagos, Nigeria to Capetown, South Africa to Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ogunji’s performances are designed to create spaces of free movement for the women who participate.  She is especially interested in the relationship between labor and leisure in this process of embodying freedom.

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Wura-Natasha Ogunji is a visual artist and performer. Her works include drawings hand-stitched into tracing paper, videos and public performances.  Her work is deeply inspired by the daily interactions and frequencies that occur in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, from the epic to the intimate. Ogunji's performances explore the presence of women in public space; these often include investigations of labor, leisure, freedom and frivolity.  Recent exhibitions include the Stellenbosch Triennial’s Tomorrow There Will Be More of Us; Alpha Crucis at Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; and A stranger’s soul is a deep well at Fridman Gallery, New York. She was an Artist-Curator for the 33rd São Paulo Bienal where her large-scale performance Days of Being Free premiered. Ogunji is a recipient of the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and has received grants from The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; The Dallas Museum of Art; and the Idea Fund. She has a BA from Stanford University [1992, Anthropology] and an MFA from San Jose State University [1998, Photography].  She currently resides in Lagos where she is founder/curator of the experimental art space The Treehouse.

I'm sorry for the last minute change as I was really looking forward to finally connecting.  The flight change was entirely out of my hands and has really upended my schedule.  Anyway, I'm glad you were able to download the video.   I'm thinking in the context of the video screening you can discuss some of the issues I write about below.  Students can also feel free to email if they have further questions about the work. 

 

Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman? is one of the first performances in a series titled Mogbo mobranch which is a Yoruba phrase which translates as "I heard and I branched myself into the party."  It's used to describe a party crasher, but it also poetically suggests a bold action of deciding to participate in the fun.  Because the performances I make in Lagos are about the presence of women in public space, I am very interested in this idea of inserting oneself into a place where one's presence might be (officially or unofficially) unwanted.  How do we make space and make our voices heard? Or, perhaps, even before being 'heard', how do we feel our own presence and freedom in the world?  I am deeply interested in how these questions may be answered through performance, through endurance acts, and through other actions which hold the body (movements, knowledge, intuition, connectedness to others) as primary.  I should also mention that the performances I make are largely intended to create situations of freedom, to create a sense of freedom for the performers themselves.  There is always energy, dialogue, connection between the performers and the audience, but this centers with the experience of the performers. 

 

The other element of this work I create has to do with the particular cultural context here in Nigeria.  We have a tradition of rituals and ceremonies which not only honor the ancestors, but they bring the ancestors into a space.  The masked dancer houses the spirit.  In the case of the Egungun masquerade, the dancer (Egungun) moves through a town and cannot at all be touched.  This means that people move out of the way when Egungun walk through a space.  This tradition gives rise to what the performance artist Jelili Atiku refers to as the Egungun method.  It is an instruction for the performer to occupy all areas of society with the same freedom and focus and purpose that Egungun embody.  In the context of performance then, women may go anywhere.  People make space for us in ways rarely felt in everyday life.  

 

Below is the description of the work.

 

Let me know if you have further questions.

Best,

Wura

 

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I created the first version of Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman? in 2011 in Lagos. I crawled along the ground with water kegs tied to my ankles. The piece was inspired by the daily task of carrying water at my cousin's house. I observed how this particular work was largely something that me and my female cousins performed. This is not to say that men do not do this task.

The performance on April 18, 2013 built upon this work but was performed with a group of women walking through the streets of Lagos, again hauling water kegs. While the piece poses questions about the work of women, it is also about labor and the politics of change. How much is enough? What is the tipping point in a society where people struggle to meet basic needs? When do people have an opportunity to rest, reflect, envision, imagine, and enact another way of being? I am particularly interested in the role of women in these dialogues.

The costumes refer to traditional masquerades but with an Afrofuturisic touch. Here, I am thinking about the Egungun masquerade which women are not allowed to perform. Masquerades are quite powerful for both community and performer. The masked dancer is allowed to go anywhere; they are protected. People are not allowed to even touch them. There are men who holds sticks (and use them) if you attempt to get too close. Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?draws from this tradition by allowing women to occupy a sacred and dynamic space within the public environment. But in this case, there is a constant recontextualization of the sacred and the profane as we perform the arduous (if not impossible) task of hauling water kegs through the city.

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