Q&A on Research and Performance with Okwui Okpokwasili

Now that we’ve seen Okwui Okpokwasili’s performance as part of River To River, we’re looking forward to hearing her and Eiko Otake on Saturday during an Open Studio and as preparation are re-reading and LOVING this interview she did with Channel Thirteen.

Q: You describe your installation as partly inspired by protest practices of Nigerian women in the 1920s. what would you like anyone coming to your performance to know about those events, or your relation to them?

A: I’m never sure that I want people to know too much of anything with respect to my research. My first concern is to provide a space for a visceral, sensory experience, with the performers, the other people coming into the space, with the material of the space.

But perhaps people should know these things:

  • In 1929 thousands of unarmed women in Southeastern Nigeria came together over the course of a month in protest of a repressive colonial government
  • They were mostly women of childbearing age and older
  • They were mostly naked and that very nakedness shocked and frightened colonial administrators, and was used to justify the shooting deaths of at least 50 of these unarmed women
  • Nakedness was/is a weapon to be strategically deployed
  • English officers spoke of these women in supernatural and mythic terms
  • I’m thinking about an interrogation of the supernatural with respect to the brown/black body
  • I’ve been thinking about the extensive network of women in southeastern Nigeria at that time and their capacity to mobilize that network and protest against ongoing colonial practices that they considered an existential threat to their communities and way of life
  • The people of the region referred to the event as the “grand women’s egwu” and that “egwu” means dance in Igbo, so there is an implicit connection in the language tying performance with protest
  • I’m thinking about what it means to remember and how we receive memory, that I am concerned with excavating forgotten histories and enlivening ancestors, that the grappling with my own forgetting, is part of my material
  • And maybe people should also know that I’m considering the contradiction of choosing a munitions storage site to perform this particular action/meditation on nonviolent collective action

[Okpokwasili shared this link on historic nuances of colonialism, gender and power in Nigeria as a resource to learn more.]

Read the full interview here.