Currently on view at the Idea Lab
earth, body, spirit
August 25, 2022 - February 10, 2023
Curated by Phillip Townsend, Curator of Art
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
US-born, Nigeria-based artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji charts the geographic and psychic distance between Africa and the Americas and between the living and the ancestors in finely detailed multimedia drawings and poignant videos. The drawings in this exhibition (all on display for the first time) depict birds, the artist herself, and her loved ones in expanses of blank paper suggestive of vast landscapes. Ogunji shows these human and animal personages engaged in an unceasing process of questioning and transformation. Together with a video of a performance in Lagos, Nigeria, they picture journeys of transcendence, multiplicity, and labor.
To produce the drawings, Ogunji hand stitches thread into translucent, yellowish tracing paper usually used by architects for preliminary drawings, sketches, and layouts, and draws in ink, acrylic paint, and colored pencil. The textures and colors of these media add dimension and depth to the variously smooth and furrowed surface of the works. They also give an earthly physicality to the figures engaged in moments of ethereal connection. Ogunji often locates these moments in or alongside water, a sphere often associated with creation myths. It allows the artist to reflect on connections and separations between Africa and the Americas to, as she puts it, “think about what’s happening below the water, the depth, what’s under and what’s carried and balance—what’s happening on either side of the sea.”
Daily life in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, often inspires Ogunji. In Lagos and surrounding areas, many women must transport water from wells and water pumps, sometimes uphill, to their homes for drinking, cooking, washing, and feeding livestock. The video Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman? documents a performance in which the artist and six other women hauled large plastic containers of water through the city. It draws on Egungun, a Yoruba masquerade that visually manifests ancestors’ spirits and is traditionally reserved for men. Thus, the performance allowed the women to occupy a sacred space usually off limits to them. At the same time, their arduous trek draws attention to women’s labor, asking whether it extends beyond earthly existence into the afterlife. Ogunji’s video, like her drawings, highlights the porosity between the physical and spiritual realms.
Wura-Natasha Ogunji: earth, body, spirit provides a glimpse of the artist’s lyrical, dreamlike landscape. In the drawings and video, lines, colors, shapes, and figures convey much more than can be understood through a quick glance. By working with African and African diaspora knowledges to blur the often rigid Western dualism between body and spirit, Ogunji makes the unseen visible and eternal.
Phillip Townsend, Curator of Art