Space of Acceptance - Ugo Woatzi
TBILISI PHOTO FESTIVAL X FUTURES
Interviewed by Ana Gabelaia
Tell us a bit about yourself, about your first introduction to photography and the path you’ve taken so far.
I started photography at The Market Photo Workshop of Johannesburg, I was really fascinated by the work of Samuel Fosso at that time. I started self portraiture as a way to explore and accept my identity, it also helped me to heal from my past. Later, I understood I could use photography & visual art as a political and societal tool.
Ugo Woatzi. Curtain / From the series ‘Chameleon’ Ugo Woatzi. Shadow / From the series ‘Chameleon’
It comes from my personal story, as a kid growing up in a patriarchal & traditional environment I could not express my identity & sexuality freely. I started “chameleon” with the idea of hiding and performing. It then became a collective & collaborative project as we create works together with people from my community (most of them from the LGBTQ+). We share stories, ideas, conversations in order to create visuals and statements. It is a long-term project, it’s fluid and in transition as our bodies, identities, and spaces around us.
As a curator, I try to encourage artist projects that reflect on different kinds of social/political issues. There were several cases in my practice when artists were concerned about their work being ‘too activistic’. What is your opinion about this matter? Do you think there should be strict boundaries between art and activism?
Personally, I consider myself as a visual artist & activist. I try to express the desires and struggles of my community, together creating a more sensitive and accepting world, escaping and confronting the harsh realities of divisive heteronormative structures. I don’t think boundaries are necessary, I personally think that we have to be honest in our practice & create a dialogue between our heart and mind. As a LGBTQ+ person living in our society, of course I’m an activist…
What do you think is artist’s role in raising social awareness?
Ugo Woatzi. Just chill / From the series ‘Chameleon’ Ugo Woatzi. Wig / From the series ‘Chameleon’
I do think artist are able to give a message through their practice and what they present to the audience. In that way, it is important for me to give access to art space or to bring art to a large audience (especially if there is a kind of activism). I do think art needs to raise social awareness, in my project “chameleon” it started from personal experiences, to collective ones, and it became political as well.
You position yourself as a queer artist. Does it mean that problems concerning LGBTQ+ theme will further stay in your focus?
Not only problems, but also beautiful stories and hopes from and for LGBTQ+ people. Speaking of truth and yet creating fiction, this is how I’m trying to escape difficult realities & spaces. It is in this new world that we finally access a space of acceptance.
Ugo Woatzi. Roses / From the series ‘Chameleon’ Ugo Woatzi. Bloom / From the series ‘Chameleon’
Do you have future projects that maybe you want to talk about?
Ugo Woatzi. Back / From the series ‘Chameleon’ Ugo Woatzi. David / From the series ‘Chameleon’
I’m currently doing a residency program together with artist and activist Brandon Gercara at La Reunion where we are collecting, archiving and creating images, texts, videos, performances together with the LGBTQ+ community of the island which has it first pride march this year in 2021.
Cover image: Ugo Woatzi. Escape / From the series ‘Chameleon’ and Lover / From the series ‘Chameleon’.
This series of articles are published in order to create new artistic opportunities for the Futures Talents - the photographers that are part of Futures platform. In 2020 Tbilisi Photo Festival has joined the FUTURES - Europe based photography platform co-funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union. Futures bring together the global photography community to support and nurture the professional development of emerging artists across the world. The project implemented in partnership with Tbilisi Photography & Multimedia Museum.