Wura-Natasha Ogunji on reclaiming the female voice through public performance

The performance artist’s work explores the tense relationship between women, society, space and politics in Lagos.

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Wura-Natasha Ogunji is a visual and performance artist who was born in the United States and has been travelling to and working from her parent’s birthplace of Nigeria for the past six years. With a background in photography and anthropology, Ogunji’s work focuses largely on exploring the presence of women in public spaces around the capital of Lagos.

“The first time I came here I was staying with my cousins and I was noticing this division of labour,” she says. Particularly intrigued by the daily ritual of collecting water – performed mainly by women – it led her to develop the performance art piece, Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?

Featuring six women dressed in matching costumes and masks as they carry kegs full of water that are strapped to their ankles, Ogunji drew inspiration for the piece from the traditional Egungun Masquerade. A ritual in which masked dancers who are considered to be filled with the spirit of the ancestors move around the city completely protected from human touch, women are traditionally not allowed to dance in it. But by pulling aspects of the ritual into her own work Ogunji opens up a space of public freedom for female performers.

As new art spaces open up around the country, Ogunji is positive that performance art and practices like it will become more commonplace. “The contemporary art scene in Lagos is very exciting right now,” Ogunji says. “We’re really at the beginning of something and that makes it a very rich jumping off place.”