Ufuoma Essi: Is My Living in Vain


Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, 420 Titirangi Road, Titirangi, Auckland

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Saturday 13 May 2023 - Sunday 23 July 2023




Te Uru
09 817 8087

Ufuoma Essi, Is My Living in Van, 2022. Film (still). Courtesy of the artist.

Te Uru presents a major new film by London-based filmmaker and artist Ufuoma Essi. Informed by Black feminist epistemology, her films and moving image works examine history as an embodied experience.

Essi intercuts archival footage with heterogeneous materials, including VHS tapes, YouTube clips, analogue 16mm, and super 8mm footage shot on location. Her work aims to disrupt the silences and gaps in the dominant visual narratives through an embodied exploration of archives. With an acute sense of rhythm and syncopation, her films weave together the lived experiences and transgenerational histories of Black women’s resilience and creativity in the face of systemic violence.

Is My Living in Vain is a meditation on the continuing history and emancipatory potential of the Black church as a space of belonging, affirmation and community organising. Combining shot footage, oral histories and archive material from both sides of the Atlantic, the film follows a tangled thread of personal and collective memories to interrogate the church’s contribution to a Black radical tradition.

The film emerges from an ongoing exploration into the histories of performance across the Black Atlantic. It looks at the collective rituality of congregations across South London, where Essi was born and raised, and West Philadelphia, where she found her vocation as a filmmaker. With its title taken from one of the most celebrated hits of the pioneering gospel group The Clark Sisters, Is My Living in Vain looks at the sonic, spiritual and existential connections between these two locations intimately bound to the artist’s biography.

Deidre Helen Crumbley’s 2012 book, Saved and Sanctified: The Rise of a Storefront Church in Great Migration Philadelphia, has guided Essi’s research into congregations, including the Community Baptist Church in West Philadelphia and Brixton Baptist Church Kenyon. Essi’s new film aims to produce a visual record of the infrapolitics operating within these communities. Here “infrapolitics” can be defined in terms of discretion—what passes politically unnoticed and of significance—what does not typically qualify as political.

Essi’s 40-minute-long film is presented as part of an immersive installation inspired by the interiors of storefront churches in West Philadelphia. The film installation at Te Uru explores the parallels between the church and the cinema as sites of worship and shared communal experience.

Is My Living in Vain is commissioned and produced by Gasworks, London, in partnership with Te Uru and Le Magasin CNAC (Centre National d’Art Contemporain), Grenoble. The film is also supported by Arts Council England.

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