Is My Living in Vain

Solo show by Ufuoma Essi

Curated by Céline Kopp
| Produced by Magasin CNAC
April 7th – October 1st, 2023
– vernissage April 6th, 2023

Is My Living In Vain is the title given by Ufuoma Essi to her first solo exhibition in France. The British artist, whose work is mainly in the form of video, film, photography and sound, invites the audience of the Magasin CNAC into an immersive installation with a religious atmosphere dedicated to her most recent and most ambitious film up to date, sharing the exhibition title.

Is My Living In Vain offers a look at the history and emancipatory potential of the black church as a space of belonging, affirmation and collective organisation in the diaspora. Archival footage, oral histories and images shot between Philadelphia and London are layered on screen in a tangled thread of personal and shared memories. The film celebrates the performativity of black bodies in congregational spaces and examines the sonic, political, spiritual and existential connections between two communities separated by the Atlantic.

Begun in 2017, while the artist was living in Philadelphia, this project emerges from an ongoing research into the histories of performance across the Black Atlantic (a term borrowed from author Paul Gilroy). Ufuoma Essi investigates on screen the rituality of black church gatherings across South London, where she was born and raised, and West Philadelphia, where she found her calling as a filmmaker.

This solo exhibition continues and bounces back on themes the artist addresses in the film All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2019), exhibited at Le Magasin in La Position de l’Amour [From This Position of Love], where collective experience, singing, and chant emerge as modes of resistance, of reparation, in the history of black feminisms.

Born in 1995 in Lewisham, South East London, Ufuoma Essi is a video artist and filmmaker. She works primarily in film and moving image, as well as photography and sound. Archives are an essential source for her and it is through exploring them that the artist aims to interrogate and disrupt the silences and gaps in political and historical narratives. Using the archive as a process of unlearning and discovery, she seeks to refocus the marginalised histories of the Black Atlantic and the specific histories of black women.

Ufuoma Essi’s films have been screened and exhibited at national and international film festivals, institutions and galleries, including Gasworks in 2022 (co-produced with CNAC Magasin), Lisson Gallery, South London Gallery, Criterion Collection, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Public Gallery, Galerie Rudolfinum, Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Maysles Documentary Center, Black Star Film Festival and Chisenhale Studios, London Artist in residence at the South London Gallery (2020-2021), she has been selected for The Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2020.

A creation initiated and produced by Gasworks, London, in co-production with Magasin CNAC, Grenoble and Te Uru Waitākere, Auckland.

Le Magasin
National centre for contemporary art (CNAC)
Site Bouchayer-Viallet, 8 esplanade Andry-Farcy
F-38 000 Grenoble, France

Ufuoma Essi, Is My Living In Vain, 2022. Film still. 16mm, super 8mm and Video HD. Commissioned by Gasworks, London; Te Uru Waitākere, Auckland; and Le Magasin CNAC, Grenoble. Courtesy the artist