Past Events

Disorienting the Gaze: Ngozi Onwurah’s Early Films

Research Lunch – Ana S. González

  • 19 February 2021
  • 12:00 – 1:00 pm
  • Online Event

This paper investigates the forms of control that modernity/coloniality exercises on knowledge, the senses, and perception. It concentrates on Ngozi Onwurah’s early films: The Body Beautiful (1990) – held at Central Saint Martins’ British Artists’ Film and Video Collection – and her graduation film Coffee-Coloured Children (1988). Initially concerned with how the films complicate the dominant model of perception as a form of appropriation, the analysis concentrates on Onwurah’s disorienting critical strategies.

The first section – Bodies – concentrates on The Body Beautiful and its reflection on illness, drawing from feminist poet and activist Audre Lorde’s account of her experience of breast cancer and mastectomy. It also delves into the film’s depiction of the changing relationship between mother and daughter amidst a complex web of conflicting ways of looking.

The second section – Times – considers how Onwurah’s films respond to ‘the most tumultuous decade of Britain’s domestic racial history’ (Akala, 2019), as well as their relevance today. This section addresses the shift from ‘the struggle over the relations of representation to a politics of representation itself’ (Hall, 1992). That is, the process in which critical practices went beyond questions of access, started unsettling either/or thinking and actively producing identity. In particular, it explores how Onwurah’s films prompt us to unlearn our seeing, thinking, and feeling habits. The paper reflects on the discussions of a film and reading group at University of the Arts London, which introduced a bell hooks-inspired pedagogy and explored conversation as a place of learning. It intends to move away from art history’s usual colonisation or settling of its objects through the attachment of meaning. The paper adopts intersectionality as a ‘provisional concept’ to examine the past’s bearing on the present and the future. As an ‘analytic sensibility’ (Carastathis, 2016), intersectionality disorients entrenched cognitive and perceptual habits, encourages both/and thinking, and indicates the work still to be done.

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Image: Still from The Body Beautiful by Ngozi Onwurah, 1990. Digital image courtesy of Women Make Movies

About the speaker

  • Ana González

    Ana S González Rueda holds a PhD in Museum and Gallery Studies from the School of Art History, University of St Andrews (2019). Her doctoral dissertation examines the kinds of learning that take place within contemporary art exhibitions and puts forward the value of posthumanist, feminist, and decolonial pedagogies to curatorial practice today. Her recent publications include: ‘Possessing Nature: the Mexican Pavilion as a Site of Critical Analysis’ in the Journal of Curatorial Studies (Autumn 2020), and ‘Meaningful Matter: Testing Feminist Pedagogies in the Exhibition Space’, part of the latest volume on the Deviant Practice research platform at the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, Netherlands). Ana has taught at the University of St Andrews and the University of Essex. She is a Researcher in Residence at the Decolonising Arts Institute, University of the Arts London (2020). She is also currently working as Research Assistant of EU-LAC Museums, a project focused on community museology in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean; as well as Community Crafts.