A lens-based creator out of Lagos, Nigeria, Nyancho NwaNri’s works revolve around African history, indigenous spiritual traditions, culture, languages, and social end environmental issues. An internationally acclaimed documentary photographer, Nyancho also creates pieces of video art, a practice that allows her to delve deeper into herself and the experiences lived & shared with the rest of human beings.
A couple of months ago, Nyancho and I met via Zoom to talk about her love for the lens, the beauty & importance of taking one’s time, and why as artists, we should care at least as much about living as about creating.
by Nina Seidel
Hello Nyancho, thanks a lot for speaking with me today. To start with, please tell me who you are and how you got into art.
I’m Nyancho NwaNri, I’m a lens-based artist and a documentarian based in Nigeria. I actually call myself Gamgerian because I’m Gambian- Nigerian (laughs). I can’t really say what was the beginning in art for me. I know that I’ve always been drawn to art, so growing up I would do things like laying in the grass in school and watching the clouds, or sitting up on the roof in the evening at home- we lived near a canal, so I would sit and watch the canal and watch the sunset. And I really loved drawing the things I saw as I just sat there and wondered- and I loved Fine Arts class as well.
Then, at some point, my Dad gave me this disposable camera which I took to school and just started to take pictures of different things. I was in the band so I would take pictures of the band, the band members, and of myself with my friends. This happened a few times and I think that this is what really got me interested in photography and lens-based work. That would be it for the beginning until I then got into university, starting shooting with one of these small point and shoot cameras and after university I got my own professional camera as a graduation present from my siblings. And then carried on from there really. It started out as a hobby since I got that camera in 2013 and then, eventually, became more professional.
You are a video artist and documentarian, and besides that you also work as a trainer and educator, conducting workshops and talks throughout the African continent. Could you tell us a bit more about your day to day in these professions or, more generally speaking, just about your daily life?
You know, there was someone who told me one day, “You’re a creator, you need to be creating something every day.” But I’ve just never been that kind of person. I see it more as you have to live every day. I ask, okay, if I create something every day, what time do I have to live? There is a poem that I really liked when I was young in school – I can’t really remember the name of the poem- but it goes something like, “What is life if full of care / we have no time to stand and stare / No time to stand beneath the boughs / And stare as long as sheep or cows” But I think that’s what I’ve been doing since I was little- just sitting and watching like sheep (laughs).
One of the most important things in my work is living, really. Because it’s from living that we get to experience things and then from those experiences we draw to create our work.
To just live forms an integral part of my process as an artist and documentarian as well, because on the documentarian side to really dive into a story, you need to be able to spend time with people. You need to be able to spend time with people where you’re working, photographing and really get to know people. I think it makes a huge difference between just showing up with a camera and shooting quickly, staying there for a couple of days, as opposed to going there, putting your camera away and just getting to know people. It means not just photographing a man who has been affected by climate change but interacting with and documenting Mr. ABC who has a wife and three children and cannot take his children to school anymore because his home is flooded. So, living is what I do every day.
Taking time to see, taking time to hear, taking time to feel, taking time to live.
“To be in movement is to generate a series of shifts manifested through the flow of familiar motions, unpredictable processes and somatic expressions via the wordless medium of the body. The material body then becomes a conduit for intangible and affective dimensions of being made known on a physical level.”