Studio Visit: Wura-Natasha Ogunji
Trappings of a Transnational Studio
In preparing to visit Wura-Natasha Ogunji, I re-watched some of her video works. I was most struck by Ogunji's video Two (2010), which was filmed outside of the Mueller development. In it, two figures traverse a space, disjointedly floating through it. While Two is a short video, made by stitching together multiple mid-air jumps, it's also exhausting. The soundtrack: the gasps and sighs that come with strenuous physical activity. Travel, here, is a full-bodied enterprise. Since then, Ogunji has only gained in prominence, recently winning a coveted Guggenheim fellowship which will take her to Nigeria.
Austin Chronicle: First of all, congratulations on the Guggenheim fellowship! And the work you proposed for it, a series you're calling Mogbo Mo Branch, sounds fascinating ...
Wura-Natasha Ogunji: Well, the Yoruba phrase "Mogbo Mo Branch" means "I heard, and I branched myself into the party," which is about being a party crasher. It's an amazing expression because it means "There's a party ... Let's go!" It's very bold. You don't show up in jeans; you show up looking fabulous and ready for the party. I love exploring what it means for women to take up public space in that way. And for me, who is Nigerian – my father was Nigerian – but didn't grow up in Nigeria, what it means for me to insert myself into Nigeria.
AC: Do you have any idea what the work will look like?
W-NO: It will be videos made with other performers in Nigeria, and I intend to project those back into the city, so it becomes a living presence where people can respond to the work on the street.
AC: What do you do here to prepare for these performances overseas?
W-NO: The last time I was in Nigeria, I found these dream journals from my father. So I'm working on drawings – compilations, really – of things in my father's journals, or lists of things. That work had to happen here, and I needed to figure out the questions here that becomes part of my preparation to go to Nigeria.
AC: Can you talk about the emotional preparation that goes on?
W-NO: Well, I've done this a few times. I think about the way I structure my creative practice here, so that I can retain it over there. How do I make work and be able to travel with the materials so they're not unwieldy? Like paper – I use rolls of architectural sketch. Video, of course, is very portable. There's the art materials and then there's the emotional homespace: spices, food, books, videos. Food is big. I do a lot of self-care around that.
AC: How do you transfer your studio?
W-NO: The more challenging thing is the cultural expectations around studio practice. Here, I can go without seeing my friends for a few days and that's totally fine. You can't do that in Nigeria. People will think you're rude, ill, or that something's wrong with you.