For a lot of creatives, it can take a while to find their medium; the avenue through which they best express themselves. But for southeast London-born and raised artist Ufuoma Essi, it’s always been clear. “I’ve always been interested in film and artist moving images, from a young age film was definitely the thing I was interested in the most,” she tells us. She would rush home from school to watch Pam Grier BlaxploitatIon films and, after a visit to the Tate in 2014 with her older sister (also an artist), where she saw the Stuart Hall Project by John Akomfra, Ufuoma knew “this is what I wanted to do”.
Ufuoma’s work revolves around Black feminist epistemology and the configuration of displaced histories, with the aim of re-centring those histories within her work. She does this through playing with pacing and time, creating layers that “seek to both disrupt historical narratives and act as points of surrogation for the viewer.” It’s a body of work which landed her on this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries list, despite the fact she describes herself as still defining her practice. “[I’m] trying to find ways to further my development as an artist,” she says. “I didn’t go to art school so my practice is self driven and I’m constantly evolving as an artist and carving out my style.”
Ufuoma studied history at UCL and in her third year studied abroad in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. It was here she first got into practical filmmaking, enrolling in as many classes as she could. “One of the classes I took was a Video 1 class in my second semester and it was led by James Howzell, who is an artist and professor based in Philadelphia,” she recalls. “The class changed my whole world. It introduced me to a lot of artist filmmakers such as Chris Marker, Wong Kar-Wai and Arthur Jafa.” Ufuoma’s time spent in Philadelphia had a major impact on her practice, as she was inspired by both the city and its Black art and film culture.
Back in London, she began experimenting with the film medium, making solo films and collaborations with friends before undertaking the REcreative Film School led by Saeed Taji Farouky “which is like an artist filmmaking programme at the South London Gallery.” It’s a programme she points to being paramount to her development as an artist as “it provided me with an artist filmmaking network in London”. She also highlights the influence her sister has had, as even though Ufuoma didn’t go to art school, she “got a lot of my art education from her”.