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Awardee: Okwui Okpokwasili

Performing Arts, 2016

Okwui Okpokwasili is a New York-based writer, performer and choreographer. She is currently the New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist.  As a performer, Okpokwasili frequently collaborates with award-winning director Ralph Lemon, appearing in Come Home, Charley Patton (for which she won a Bessie Award), HYCS and Scaffold Room. She has appeared as an actor in many productions, including Nora Chipaumire’s Miriam; Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Young Jean Lee’s Lear; Richard Foreman’s Maria Del Bosco; Richard Maxwell’s Cowboys and Indians; and Joan Dark (The Goodman Theater). Residencies and awards include The French American Cultural Exchange (2006–07); MANCC Choreographic Fellowship (2012); Baryshnikov Arts Center Artist-in-Residence (2013), NYLA Studio Series (2013); Under Construction at the Park Avenue Armory (2013); NYFA Fellowship in Choreography (2013); LMCC’s Extended Life Program (2014); and The Foundation for Contemporary Arts’ Artist Grants in Dance (2014).

Project: Poor People's TV Room

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, 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.