The intricate moving image based work of artist and a-n member Onyeka Igwe uses text, image and archive film to investigate complex social histories. She is best known for her films exploring the legacies of the Colonial Film Archive, but she has also examined the role that football chants play in nation building (Sung, 2018), experiences of incarnation (Corrections, 2018), and most recently the social history of the commons (The Miracle on George Green, 2022.)

Here she discusses a highly successful 2022, which included being the recipient of a FLAMIN Productions award, which will facilitate the creation of a new film, provisionally titled A (speculative) history of (colonial) Reparations.

What kind of year has 2022 been for you?

It’s been a busy year. I spent a lot of it travelling with my work, which has been a bit of a double-edged sword. It feels complicated to travel after the pandemic, but I really enjoy making work that allows me to go to different places and to speak to different people.

I finished a film called The Miracle of George Green, which premiered at the High Line in New York. I’ve made a series of films around the Colonial Film Archive, but this new film was not about that and a bit of a change in my practice. It was exciting to finish it.

I also went to Senegal for the Dakar Biennial and screened a film – the names have changed, including my own and truths have been altered (2019) – as part of an off programme there. It was the first time I’d screened a work dealing with the Colonial Archives on the African continent. In a few weeks’ time, I’m going to Lagos as well.

I’m also doing a residency – The School for Sonic Memory – that took place across three Mediterranean cities: Athens, Alexandria and Marseilles. In March, I went to Argentina to do some research. And, I went to Berlin because I had a show there.

Onyeka Igwe, High Line installation: The Miracle on George Green, 2022. A High Line Original. On view May 11 – September 14, 2022. Photo by Timothy Schenck. Courtesy of the High Line.

Do you think your experience of 2022 will change your future work?

Because of the travelling, I haven’t had dedicated time to work on one thing. I haven’t been able to sit down with the research I did in Argentina at all. Sometimes you need a fallow year. That’s probably what I need for 2023.

What has changed for the better in 2022?

I received FLAMIN Productions award financing. That has allowed me to direct my energies into something more long term. I feel more stable in being able to do that than I have before. Life experience makes things less daunting. I have more tools and support to do the things I’d like to do.

What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?

I wish funding wasn’t getting cut by the government. Sometimes competition is fostered between artists and I wish there were more spaces to come together and talk with other people in a non-commercial way. Though, that wish is probably an ever present one.

Onyeka Igwe, finished screenplay Marseille.

What would you characterise as your major achievement?

I wrote the first draft of a screenplay for a new project. I couldn’t really imagine doing that before, so it felt like a really big achievement. I have a reverence for people who write and always considered that it was something that other people do. I have this very nice writing group with a friend of mine and we did our own writing residency. It felt like a daunting task and I didn’t think I could do it. That was something I felt proud of.

It is important for me to have new experiences. It keeps me energised. Writing that screenplay gave me a whole new set of things to explore, which will keep me engaged for some time.

Is there anything you would have liked to have done this year, but didn’t get a chance to do?

Regrets! I wanted to go to Documenta. I tried to go twice, but both times ended up being a kind of failure. People that went have said it was a really important experience and another way of thinking about these grand exhibitions. It was led by collectives and their working practices. It offered a different kind of space. It’s a shame that I wasn’t present for it. If you work in this field, I feel you don’t often have the experience of being touched and transformed by seeing art. I feel like that could have been one of those experiences.

I’ve worked a lot but maybe I haven’t attended to other things so much. So, maybe that’s something I wish I would have done more of.

Onyeka Igwe, The Miracle on George Green, 2022. Courtesy of the Artist and the High Line.

What are you looking forward to in 2023?

I’m looking forward to shooting my film A (speculative) history of (colonial) Reparations (supported by a FLAMIN Productions award) in early January. I will pretty much spend the rest of the year editing it. It’s going to be shown in the autumn and be part of an exhibition at Bonington Gallery in 2024.

You begin with a broad idea that can go anywhere. The process of making is that idea getting narrower and narrower. Sometimes, moving from the idea to the reality can be uncomfortable but I’m excited to see what it ends up like. It’s going to be the product of a lot of people’s ideas and a collaboration. I’m excited to see what my relationship with the film will be by the end of the year.

Can you tell us a little bit more about this project?

It’s a dual timeline film between 1947 and today. In 1947, lots of the people who later became famous for radical pan-African politics were in London, plotting the end of empire from within. The men are known about – CLR James, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah – but there were black women involved too who were doing different things: performance, dance and poetry. The project imagines two women from this period who come together to try to write a revolutionary play.