Oroma Elewa is a visual and performance artist that identifies as a transnational African. Born in Nigeria, she relocated to New York when she was 15 years old, where she now lives and practices her art, intertwined with time in Marrakesh. She is known for facilitating the path towards a specific African aesthetic that can be characterised as “both African and cosmopolitan” according to the Observer. As someone who has inhabited various spaces, her viewpoint is one that carries the weight of having lived on either side of the Atlantic.
Oroma’s original interest lay in telling the stories of other Africans that live a shared experience with her in her publication Pop’Africana that ran from 2008 – 2014. “It was for the very educated, well-travelled, cultured African, particularly those who were living in the world in global cities like New York, London, Berlin etcetera. I also wanted to create a certain aesthetic that did not exist for African bodies in the magazine space.” With the rise of social media and people’s ability to tell their own stories she transitioned into a new chapter – telling her own stories as a performance artist.
Her decision was to immerse herself in performance by means of enrolling at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. “It was my art that drove me to shelter and canopy what was missing in fashion for the African cosmopolitan.” With all of this change Oroma came to the realization that she wanted a different, new way to tell stories and that she wanted to start that process by telling her own.
“I felt like my personal story was getting lost. I’ve always written, I’ve always taken pictures but the reason I had to take up photography and pick the models and style was because what I wanted to do hadn’t been seen and hadn’t been done.”
Her latest project takes a tangible form, a book that is described on the artist’s website in the following words “Crushed Guava Leaves is a performance primer. It is performance as play, as identity, as politics, as language and as mannerism. It is a collection of performable short stories – cultural snapshots – borne out of my memories, dreams, encounters, conversations, experiences and observations. All primed to be performed and interpreted through sound and movement, on stage and on film. Each piece ranges in heft and weight, from detailed recountings to fleeting impressions. Yet all invite reflection on the canon of performance art – on what can be performed and what is valuable material for cultural performance. Crushed Guava Leaves is an invitation to immerse in an evocative textual and aural landscape inspired by my remembrances.”
Oroma is concerned with personal memories, lived experience and telling a story. Since the term artist was coined, artists all over the globe have been trying to make sense of their lives and the world around them. Oroma’s concept is therefore not singularly distinct. What gives her work and conceptual ideas weight is that she is someone who saw the tear in the fabric of the society she is situated in that has misrepresented or completely ignored the narrative she chooses to address – that of the transnational African. Moreover, Oroma’s work is aimed at making her viewers question the basis of what can be considered a performance piece and in this she succeeds.