Okwui Okpokwasili creates performance and choreographic work that speaks to her history of growing up in New York, raised by parents who are Nigerian immigrants. Working often with her collaborator, producer Peter Born, Okpokwasili has caught the attention of the performance community through her fantastic ability to move, including The New Yorker’s Hilton Als, who claimed “she makes whole narratives out of gestures.” Yet, dance is only one of her talents: Okpokwasili has performed as the principal singer in works by Jim Findlay, as “Lear” in Young Jean Lee’s Shakespearean adaptation, and appearing in a music video for “4:44” by Jay-Z. Projects like Poor People’s TV Room brings all this together, and sets the standard of what a political choreographic performance can do in contemporary culture.
Okpokwasili received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018, as well as many other awards and residency opportunities.
Awards & Accomplishments
Poor People’s TV Room
Okwui Okpokwasili creates performance and choreographic work that speaks to her history of growing up in New York, raised by parents who are Nigerian immigrants.Artist Bio
Peter Born is a director, designer, and filmmaker known for his collaborations with artists David Thompson, nora chipaumire, and Okwui Okpokwasili.Artist Bio
Inspired in part by the Women’s War of 1929 in Nigeria, Poor People’s TV Room is a multidisciplinary performance work that plays in a discursive performance space concerned with the entanglement of visibility and shared embodiment, with the spectral and insistent presence of forgotten women. It is a speculative, impressionistic work grounded in a narrative of the bodies of brown women. In her inquiry into the Igbo Women’s War, Okwui Okpokwasili discovered the empowered role of women as stewards of the pre-colonial marketplace and how the colonial project sought to supplant women in the market with men. The current spate of suicide bombings in Northern Nigerian markets, often carried out by young women violently coerced or radicalized by Boko Haram, presents a twisted and violent irony where young women are visible not as caretakers of the market but as an existential threat. As her work often entangles histories of grief and desire, the TV room in Poor People’s TV Room is an attempt to open up a space where history is excavated by the body even after the mind has lost its ability to remember. The TV room is a kind of resistance or talking back to the disappearance of black women in cultural narratives, especially as empowered agents of their own change.
Poor People’s TV Room premiered at New York Live Arts in 2017, and it has traveled the country.
Peter Born is a director, designer and filmmaker. In addition to his work with Okwui Okpokwasili, he collaborates with David Thomson on a cycle of installation/ performances revolving around a post-sexual incarnation of Venus. He created the set for nora chipaumire’s rite/riot, and he has created performance videos with chipaumire, including El Capitan Kinglady. He is a former New York public high school teacher, an itinerant floral designer, corporate actor-facilitator and furniture designer. His collaborations with Okpokwasili have garnered two New York Dance Performance “Bessie” Awards.