In Conversation with Wura-Natasha Ogunji
Wura-Natasha Ogunji is a performance and visual artist who works in a variety of media, with performance being a large part of her practice. Although she holds a BA in Anthropology from Stanford University, and an MFA in Photography from San Jose State University, both in the United States, she says she has always been an artist. Ogunji uses her own body to explore movement and mark making across water, land and air through videos. In this revealing interview, she tells us more about her drawing techniques and working methods.
How would you describe yourself?
A visual and performance artist.
How was growing up like for you and what influenced you to take up art?
I grew up in the United States with my mother who encouraged us to be creative from a very young age. We were always making—painting, drawing, constructing, cutting and sewing. We were also observing. She had this gift for seeing beauty in anything; beauty and possibility. A silver gum wrapper could easily become a canoe. This sense of inventiveness and joyful observation of the world around me, set the conditions for me to become an artist.
Where have you lived and practiced mostly?
I’ve lived most of my life in the United States, though the experience of living in the Dominican Republic deeply influenced the work I am making now. It’s where I first started sewing on paper. And Spain—I spent a month at an art residency there at the foothills of the Montserrat Mountains.
That was where I first started making performance videos. Those pieces are very significant to my current art practice. In fact, the work I made in Spain, Belongings, gets re-worked and repeated in my first performance in Nigeria, Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman? The language of crawling across the earth, and the dragging of objects emerged there. Not many people know you trained as an anthropologist and hold a Masters degree in Photography, having won recognition for your video work and drawings.
What was responsible for this career change, and do you still practice as a photographer?
There wasn’t ever a ‘career change’ per se. I’ve always been an artist. The form of that changes and shifts, of course, but I haven’t left any of it behind. In fact, my thesis exhibition was a performance-installation. I will say that the way I see the world is so very photographic. The way I observe and compose is very much influenced by all the looking and seeing—the observations of light that I did as a photographer. My use of space and the way I compose my videos are deeply influenced by a sense of photographic composition. I am very aware of how and where things, people and movement enter the frame in the videos, drawings and even in my live performances. I think a lot about how the public audiences will experience the performance visually, and in relationship to the surrounding architecture and urban environment.
Generally, your work “excavates complexities of the relationship between women, society, space and politics”. Does your mixed – cultural heritage or your practice between Lagos and Austin, Texas, inform your direction, and how?
Being mixed certainly affects the work I create and the questions I’m asking. But this is also coupled with the fact of being an artist. And being queer. The experience of being different, in whatever form that may take, allows us to make important, innovative observations about the world. Sometimes it allows us to translate, but more importantly, it allows us to appreciate the beauty of what cannot be translated.
Full interview published in Omenka magazine Volume II Issue II
January 16, 2020
January 15, 2020