In Conversation with Wura-Natasha Ogunji

Coexistence is just a question of Imagination

In her recent exhibition “Every Mask I Ever Loved” multi-disciplinary artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji explores ways of understanding other people’s realities – not because there are always common grounds, but because she believes in the imaginative space.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, The proof, un undersea volcano, attraction, extraction, distraction (Detail) 2017. Photo: C&

By Theresa Sigmund
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C&:  What is your fascination with threads? Are they the connection in your truly multidisciplinary work?

Wura-Natasha Ogunji: I would say the body is the connection.  My drawings are really about the way the body feels. They are about how I can think of moving my body or another body or opening the body, exploring it, making it awkward and transforming it. So my relationship to my body and my curiosity about its physicality and physical limits, as well as my knowledge of it is the connector. Even when I am working with  threads it’s more about the sensuality I experience with my body: the smell, the touch, the shimmering structure.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, A place you can never go, 2017. Photo: C&

C&: How does your concept of private practices and public practices come together? How is it entangled with the audience and your idea of not-knowing?

WNO: When I make the performances I first think about the performers; I’m not so concerned with the audience.  I’m also very interested in the post-performance experience and the questions that get answered. For the  piece “If I loved you”  I created an actual post-performance space called A place you can never go, which is in the public view but obscured by a thread structure. I am thinking about how people who are very different from us access certain spaces and histories; how can we be supportive without being involved?; how can we understand without translating another’s experiences?; how do we make space in our societies and nations without having someone become like us? There is this very interesting balance for me of saying you will never understand and knowing that that’s okay.

All these questions I approach in my work and they come together in my space of imagination. I do miss this dimension in political conversations a lot, even though writers like Audre Lorde talk about the importance of desire and love and those very personal and essential experiences of the world. I think the space of imagination is the answer to how we step into the different worlds of different people. So I just try to explore the outer limits of my imagination in a way that is connected to other people’s imaginations and other experiences of being human in the world.

C&: How do you perceive your art practices and in particular your performances in different spaces?

WNO: A lot of the questions I have depend on where I find myself. Some of the questions I ask in the performance If I loved you were developed in Lagos and so they have a very particular reference. The question of the deconstruction of beauty resonates in both places, Lagos and Berlin.  Performances change when they travel, sometimes the energy dissipates when they are taken out of their original context. It can then feel more symbolic than like a real engagement; this is also because of the audience.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Performers in If I loved you, at ifa Gallery, 2017. Photo: Victoria Tomaschenko

C&: In If I loved you there is a repetitive speech of performers saying “If I loved you, it was because of your beauty.  Now that you are no longer beautiful I do not love you.” and like in your drawings the thread, which they are wrapping around their heads and faces, is also a moment of interruption and the moment of transformation…

WNO: I love how you describe it. Transformation is usually not soft. When I move through things in life and then I arrive at the places of the knots, these become very rich moments – beauty can emerge from destruction. That’s the whole thing about this particular performance, you’re destroying what you know is your face. But then there’s also something really gorgeous about it, it’s repulsive and ugly, but it’s also beautiful.  Maybe because of the vulnerability of the performers and what they are going through as they wrap their faces with the thread; it’s painful but also illuminating at a very personal and bodily level.  How they experience it while raising those questions with themselves and their bodies.

C&: The curator Eva Barois de Caevel said that she admires your work so much because she can feel that there is such a peacefulness and joyfulness in you creative process. Do you identify with this in your artistic language?

WNO: I never heard anyone say that before and I felt really moved by it. I remember a friend of mine many years ago said that my work felt almost too private. And I started to think about how we see the internal world of another person and what that feels like. When I am drawing it’s my very own moment of being alone and it’s something I started to appreciate a lot during the last years. Being alone is often underrated.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Sweep, Performance at ifa Gallery Berlin, 2017. Photo: Victoria Tomaschenko

C&: With this distinct language of yours, how do do you artistically position yourself towards feelings of alienation?

My performance Sweep for instance began with my own sense of feeling simultaneously connected and alienated, of wanting to leave evidence of my presence in the Nigerian earth – in a literal way by marking with my body, but also as an energetic trace. The earth in the performance was soft, comforting, almost like the feeling of a sweet patch of grass in the country, like you could sleep there. Because my question had been: how to make home in a place that is not exactly, or not yet, or perhaps never your own; how to trust your perspective and presence in a foreign place; how to mark, document, archive your movements, even if only passing through. All of these questions felt so immediate, especially because we were walking through Berlin Mitte at the time. So in a way, the performance felt very much out of place, but for that reason also necessary.

 

Interview by Theresa Sigmund.

 

The exhibtion “Every Mask I Ever Loved” at ifa Gallery Berlin runs through Januar 14, 2018. Wura-Natasha Ogunji is also taking part in the Inaugural Edition of the Lagos Biennial from Oct 14 – Nov 22, 2017.