Wura-Natasha Ogunji about the Kochi-Muziris Biennale
AT THE Kochi-Muziris Biennale, my work is installed at Aspinwall House in a second-floor room that faces the harbour. The four drawings, on light yellow trace paper, nearly touch the floor.
To the left, a gold-inked cheetah runs in one direction, while a hummingbird flys backwards in another. The movement of these two creatures — the fastest animals on Earth — balance each other, as Ballast, the title of the work, might suggest.
Across the wall, in View from Atlantis, two Ife heads (from the ancient Yoruba city in Nigeria) are stitched into the paper with fluorescent thread; they peer up from a watery expanse.
Created in the years 2016 and 2011, it makes sense that these drawings have landed here, in the seaport city, Kochi; but also Muziris, a city waiting to become, a place found, not fully excavated, in constant historical motion.
The drawing you face, upon entering the room, was the first Ballast, created in 2011. On one side of the translucent expanse is my father. In my mind, he is moving through water; an airplane overhead flies in the opposite direction. Further to the left is my grandmother, in a black and white dress, and masked. A figure stands pregnant next to her, catching a second airplane in her hand. In this trace paper, I always see the Atlantic Ocean.
The watery expanse between Africa and the Americas forever defines my aesthetic landscape. It is one of history, memory, separation and loss. I am reminded of Ricardo Bracho’s play, The Sweetest Hangover (1997).
He writes: We originate in loss. Our lost ones line the sea. We need to get back to them — become amphibious mammals like polar bears and platypuses. Our land ain’t Africa, but the sand that is our ancestor’s bones. Sharp coral an auntie’s jawbone. Seaweed some ancient brother’s locks.
The sea is also a space of futures and possibility. It mirrors reflection and refraction, as an immense disco ball and, like the drawings, a place to make worlds.
As I walk through the Biennale, I think about art what art can do, shift, and expand in the world, and how that most-often happens through what it evokes sensorially, and how it transports us. As I make my way in and out of the exhibits, (the artist from Bahrain/Dubai) Lantian Xie’s fans cool me. And with the dogs barking, I could be everywhere in the world.
Entering the darkness of Ales Steger’s The Pyramid of Exiled Poets, I closely follow the people in front of me; to be inside the Earth is a comfort, familiar, perhaps womb-like, but also a reminder of isolation and death.
I cannot bring myself to enter the water of Raul Zurita’s The Sea of Pain. I watch people wade through. The sound is mesmerising.
The participants of Lundahl and Seitl’s Symphony of a Missing Room enter with their goggles and earphones; they are sensorially deprived, but they trust their guides as they move through the water. I keep my shoes on. I wonder about the complicity of just watching.
I am entranced by Zuleikha Chaudhari’s installation and performance, Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case. I sit on the astroturf that lines the angled stage and watch a man, Kumar, prove his existence. I am thinking about the important parts that make up the whole of who we are; what is us and what is placed upon us (as identity often is).
There are two projections in the space, if my memory serves me correctly. I glance between the performer and the projected images, as if the photograph might offer more concrete evidence. But the projection of light is a changing witness, at once certain, clear, reflective, a mirror, and yet fleeting, in constant motion, a sea in itself.
The performance repeats and reverberates. I feel my way through the Biennale and return, for one last time, to the room of my drawings. The sea air sporadically and unpredictably breaks through the heat and enters the exhibition, causing the drawings to undulate, as if they are breathing.
Wuru-Natasha Ogunji live and works in Lagos, Nigeria. Her works, Ballast, Cheetah and View from Atlantis are on display at Aspinwall House until March 29. Visit www.wuraogunji.com