Studio Visit: Wura-Natasha Ogunji

Trappings of a Transnational Studio

Ogunji in her studio/home
Ogunji in her studio/home (Photo by Andy Campbell)

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.


For more information, visit www.wuraogunji.com. To see our online gallery of Ogunji's work, go to the gallery.

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