Interview: Vivian Ezugha

Vivian Ezugha is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Norwich. Ezugha's work uses the black body and hair as a vehicle for exploring issues relating to identity and culture. She grew up in Nigeria and moved to England as a child and has since studied at Aberystwyth University. This week I spoke to her about her art, the influence her life has had over her practice and her ongoing project: ‘Because of Hair: The Dichotomy of culture and Identity’.

AT: Hi Vivian, could you start by telling us a little bit about you and your practice and how you became an artist.

VE: I started off as an artist because I spent some time at home when I was a teenager, I was bullied at school. My love for art came from when I started watching a programme called Art Attack on TV and it was in someway a therapy for me; it was a place where I could exist and not feel judged. And it was the one thing that gave me ownership at the time when I felt like I didn’t have any ownership. So I started to attend an alternative school, where I was encouraged to pursue my passion for art.

AT: And could you tell us a little about one or two of your past projects?

VE: Well, it’s hard to talk about, because while I was at college and in my first year of university I was still finding my feet and playing around with ideas. But it was that, that led me to the project that I am now pursuing which I plan to pursue for a long time in my life: I hope it will take me to the day I die. My exploration started while I was at college; I was always interested in autobiography, and was always more interested in autobiographies of people I knew, my mum for example, because she was born in the UK, grew up and lived in Nigeria, met my Dad there, then we migrated and moved to England, when I was 8 years old. That experience led me to want to explore stories.

AT: So where were you studying?

VE: Halesowen college in Birmingham, before I went to Aberystwyth University -

AT: To study?

VE: Fine Art.

AT: And you work in different mediums, which we can see on your website, what are working on at the moment?

VE: For me it’s more performance based, though drawing is a key thing for me in my practice, because I often devise performance through drawing; I use drawing as a way of exploring my movement. Sometimes I work with film as well, because I’m interested in the difference between performance for film and live performance in front of a live audience.

AT: I love that you draw as as part of your devising process. So your current project is called ‘Because of Hair: The dichotomy of culture and identity’, could you tell us a little about that -

VE: It came from the autobiography work. I’ve always been interested in hair, and it centred my experience as a child growing up in Nigeria. I remember when we were very small, my mum used to take us to the market to have our hair done. We were all born in the city, but then we moved back to the village where my father was born, and the experience wasn’t so prominent until we had to shave our hair to attend school. I think the experience left me with a bitter taste because I never quite understood why I had to lose my hair. In the African Culture, especially in Nigeria, hair is a big thing and such a part of our culture. Then when we moved to the UK, there were some racial issues that came about because of not having any hair, it heightened the fact that I was different to the other children. Then at secondary school I was bullied by other black kids because my hair was not like theirs. So until I got to university my experiences of hair were quite negative. Also, my mother died of cancer and when she was ill, and had chemotherapy for the first time, she was experiencing the sickness and the pain, but that wasn’t so bad for some reason. In some ways, she knew she had to go through chemotherapy in order to get better. But the hard thing for her was when she started to lose her hair, and how that affected her emotionally,it made me question why hair was so important to us. The experience of losing my mother made me even more determined to explore hair in a more profound way.

I started at university, I collected hair from hair salons and created, what I call, sculptures, but these are sculptures that i can wear, that have life because of the person that’s wearing them. To me, hair is not a static object. That relationship between the hair and the body and the body and hair and society and politics - that fascinated me.

AT: So what point are you at now with your exploration?

VA: Well I use the hair mask a lot at the moment, as an object to perform with and to remind me of where I’ve come from. I will often apply for a residency or festival with the project in mind, but I work around this idea that I can invent stories, so the delivery or performance will be different from any other I’ve ever done, because every time I change the story. I don’t always perform with the hair mask as it can be quite an intense experience. I do a lot of research, looking at what’s going on around the world and the politics of the black female and how that relates to me as a black woman, and through that I use other methods like writing and drawing that informs performances I do in the future.

AT: And what are your aims for the project in 2016?

VA: I will be performing at BUZZCUT festival in Glasgow, 6th - 10th April, the development of the work for Buzzcut is being supported by Anteros Arts Foundation and Creative Arts East. I’m really pleased to be performing at that particular festival. I also take part in a dance workshop in London at Dance Research Studios, I want to keep exploring that as it helps inform my practice.

AT: Thank you so much Vivian.

You can check out Vivian’s work here:

Author's review: