Performer, choreographer, and writer Okwui Okpokwasili is the 2021 COA Kippy Stroud Artist in Res...Performer, choreographer, and writer Okwui Okpokwasili is the 2021 COA Kippy Stroud Artist in Residence. Credit: Peter BornThe Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud Foundation, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, its Art Advisory Committee, and College of the Atlantic, announce the selection the artist Okwui Okpokwasili for the COA Kippy Stroud Artist in Residence Program to work and live on Mount Desert Island. She will be joined by her partner and collaborator Peter Born for a month-long residency.

“We are thrilled to welcome Okwui, Peter, and their daughter Umechi to our community, and we are grateful that they have accepted the invitation,” said COA Allan Stone Chair in the Visual Arts Catherine Clinger.

After having to cancel the 2020 program with Berlin-based Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball because of the global pandemic, COA is excited to restart the program this year with these extraordinary artists. In 2019, the inaugural COA Kippy Stroud Artists in Residence were Mary Reid Kelly and Patrick Kelley. Their incredible experience moved the program beyond its status as a pilot program and the Stroud Foundation board recommended a continuation of the residency at College of the Atlantic.

Okwui Okpokwasili is a performer, choreographer, and writer creating multidisciplinary performance pieces that draw viewers into the interior lives of women of color, particularly those of African and African American women, whose stories have long been overlooked and rendered invisible. The child of immigrants from Nigeria, Okpokwasili was born and raised in Bronx, NY and the histories of these places and the girls and women who inhabit them feature prominently in much of her work. Her productions are highly experimental in form, bringing together elements of dance, theater, and the visual arts (with spare and distinctive sets designed by her husband and collaborator, Peter Born).

For the one-woman show Bronx Gothic (2014), she draws upon the disparate storytelling traditions of Victorian epistolary novels and West African griot poets. As Okpokwasili reads from a series of intimate notes exchanged by two black girls navigating the early years of adolescence in the 1980s, her body shudders, buckles, and slams to the floor. Through the intensity and duration of her movements, her body becomes, in effect, the medium through which long-buried experiences—of friendship, sexual awakening, daydreams, and nightmares—are conjured and shared.

Okwui Okpokwasili performs as part of the installation “Bronx Gothic: The Oval”Okwui Okpokwasili performs as part of the installation “Bronx Gothic: The Oval” Credit: Izzy Zimmerman

Her more recent performance piece, Poor People’s TV Room (2017), takes a similarly hybrid, nonlinear form and explores how Nigeria’s past and present collide and fragment within the body. The piece asks the question of whether the legacy of oppression and collective resistance has a psychic resonance that resides beyond conscious memory. She is one of a multigenerational ensemble of four women who perform intricately scored sequences, incantatory monologues, dialogues, and songs loosely inspired by the Bring Back Our Girls movement, launched in response to the Boko Haram kidnappings of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014, and the Women’s War of 1929, when thousands of Igbo women revolted against British colonial powers. The piece captures African and African American women entangled in the shadows of the forgotten women who came before them, while attempting to write their own futures. The memories of the embodied protests and the collective actions of Nigerian women from the past come rushing back into the present in unwieldy pieces. (2018)

She is one of many artists participating in Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America at the New Museum in NYC. The exhibition opened on February 17, 2021. This exhibition was conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and places its “title” into voice, sound, sight, form, and multivalent context/s. A lecture on its contribution within contemporary discourse/s will follow in spring term.

Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud was a talented artist, entrepreneur, generous philanthropist, and impassioned promoter of artists. She founded and funded The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, an experimental program for artists working in textiles and other media as well as the Acadia Summer Arts Program (ASAP), or “Kamp Kippy” as it was more affectionately known. The program hosted hundreds of artists and their guests and families over its almost three-decade run. Kamp Kippy, in the words of Debra Bricker Balkan, “represented a high-octane salon, an exhilarating retreat where ideas were exchanged over dinner, before lectures, and on boat trips, walks, and off-nights with fellow guests… ASAP was the outgrowth of her phenomenal largesse, of her desire to bring extraordinary people together.”

As a way to honor Stroud’s legacy and commitment to artists on the island she loved, the MBS Foundation and COA have established a one-month artist-in-residence program. It is meant to perpetuate the spirit of ASAP and provide the opportunity so treasured by Stroud of being in Maine on Mount Desert Island within an artistic, intellectual, and sociable community.