New Readings, New Meanings: Frida Orupabo, Bomb Magazine (interview)


Fragmented bodies culled from an extensive archive of found black-and-white images populate artist Frida Orupabo’s compelling Instagram feed. This stream of over two thousand stills, texts, sounds, and video loops doubles as an archival resource and point of departure for some of her paper collages of varied scales. Born in Norway and of dual Norwegian and Nigerian heritage, Orupabo is a trained sociologist who mines images from the media and her personal life to address race, gender, sexuality, violence, representation, and identity in a practice engaged with representing ways of seeing black bodies.

Orupabo’s black bodies are cut-up collages put back together to confront the viewer’s gaze, and they allude to the concept of “double-consciousness” put forward by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903 in The Souls of Black Folk: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Pain and suffering rendered by photography since its inception in the 1830s have long contributed to constructing false identities of black people. This is particularly the case with representations of black women who are often rendered as fleshy, passive subjects; these representations are also coupled with an unhealthy obsession that repeatedly and wrongly sexualises their bodies. Photography, colonialism, and racism have contributed to condescending and incorrect representations of black bodies. Orupabo’s art counteracts this with images centred on reclaiming the gaze of black subjects and reversing the narrative of victimhood.