Ope Lori: The Culture Interview

Who are you and where are you based?
My name is Ope Lori and I’m based in London, at least for now, but let’s see what the future holds.

What’s your background?
I was born in London, but bred in Essex. Luckily I don’t speak or look like any of the people from The Only Way Is Essex, but I have always considered myself Nigerian, given my upbringing. My family are Itsekiris originally from Warri In Nigeria and I come from a long line of royalty and this really is no joke. I recently just came back from spending my Christmas at home and learnt more about my ancestral history, understanding far more about my family background than has always been drummed into me by my Dad when I was growing up. Knowing my background and where I am coming from was always important to my Dad who is a proud Itsekiri man and a leader in his own right. In true Nigerian style he raised four children who are doing really well right now.

Who are your favourite characters from African film, literature or art?
I have always liked the photographic works of the late Rotimi Fani-Kayode, for daring to work on homosexuality, desire and the black male body, whilst being a fellow Nigerian. He boldly went where not many have gone before even though as many of us know, there is a stigma attached to being gay, black and queer. His work has been an inspiration to many and myself. His images are really compelling.

What are you ambitions for yourself as an artist?
As an agent of social change, knowing that images have the power to create identities, my ambitions are therefore simple. Through the images I make, I hope to challenge the ways in which people think about race and gender. My work is political and I would like to generate more dialogue on these topics, especially as the issues I engage with are largely to do with acceptable notions of the female image ideal, which is wholly constructed by society and is not a true reflection of women. As a black feminist artist, I want to challenge existent ways of seeing black female bodies and I feel I am already doing this through my current path, but there is still more to do. I would like to be an international artist, working between the UK, US and Nigeria. It would be great to show my work on home soil too.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on many things to say the least. Firstly, I am trying to complete my PhD in the next few months, which is proving a different kind of challenge given that writing is a practice and skill of it’s own and as a visual artist, finding that writing style has proven a lot of hard work. I am also working on a few on going projects, artworks which will be featured in my next solo show in 198 Gallery, Brixton, London from September 19th 2013, so watch this space, as it will be a big one. As with most of my work, the show will engage with taboo subjects, from inter racial desire, race, gender and sexuality confronting the audience with a mixture of lens-based works and a performance to put us all on tender hooks! I really don’t mean to be cruel, but I will be using some shock tactics as a strategy to make people engage with these important issues.

What’s the most sublime artistic experience you’ve ever had?
I am always completely lost in awe when experiencing the work of American moving image artist Bill viola. When I first saw ‘Ascension’ a single screen large screen projection showing a figure falling through water, as the title suggests, certainly raises my spirits and elevates my mind to a peaceful place. It’s a beautiful piece and I can happily spend all day looking at his work.

What’s your greatest fear – either for yourself [as an artist] – or for Africa?
Well my greatest fear would be doing this interview in itself, in the sense that, I know all to well that if certain parts of the community back home were to see some of the issues I was engaging with, and saw some of the visual works they could be shocked, given my family roots. But heck, as my younger sister beautifully said, whilst praying for me, during our traditional New Years prayers, saying that “sometimes it takes people like you to change the culture, to be courageous and do what others don’t dare to do, so that people don’t think that some of the phenomenon that you talk about are strictly reserved for the west, when in fact it’s a global fact”. So with the fears I hold, I always remember the saying of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, such as Rotimi Fani-Kayode and too dare like him to continue to talk about these complex issues, even with the threat of danger. Fear for me, strangely has always been a friend to action!

Recommend a song we should check out – preferably with a youtube link?
I was really tempted to go back down memory lane and give you many of our parents generations classic in ‘Muss Coupe – My Sweety My Sugar (Let Me Love You)’ however, I would rather you check out ‘Black Girls. When I first set eyes on this music video and heard the lyrics, “I’ve got a thing for Black girls…. You know I’ve got some love for Black girls,” I was immediately thrilled with the bluntness of what I was hearing, but slightly ambivalent to what I was seeing. Behind the image of a long haired, blonde, white woman confessing her racial preferences for black women, actually lies a song written by the American Indie pop band, ‘Chester French’, made up of two young white guys. This completely blew my mind and now I am writing a paper on it for a conference I will be presenting at in the Summer.


Ope Lori’s solo show runs at the 198 Gallery, Brixton, London from September 19th – 2nd November 2013.