Meet the Artist: Natacha Ikoli
Our artist of the month from BAC’s Registry of Brooklyn Artists is filmmaker and video artist Natacha Ikoli. Currently based in Brooklyn, Natacha was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and moved to France at age 5. She was a 2013 BAC Community Arts Grant recipient. We sat down and asked her a few questions about her practice.
Natacha is a video artist, observer, non-fiction storyteller and documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn. Cinema vérité style of documentary making, themes of social ascension, emergence of leadership classes and gender identity have inspired her work as a filmmaker and artist. In 2005, she created a video installation exploring dementia and voyeurism, putting the viewer in the position of the unwanted observer. The piece, titled “Le Horla,” is based on the popular French writer Guy de Maupassant’s eponymous short story.
In her documentary film “Bana Congo Oyé,” Natacha explored the impact that the term “évolué” has had on today’s Congo collective unconsciousness. The term was used during colonial times to define a group of educated Congolese men who “evolved” and were trained to take part in the civilizing mission of the Belgian Congo. The film, set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and shot over a five year period, looks into the challenges and struggles of a middle class man in a country still recovering from decades of war.
Natacha’s focus is on telling stories through observation like an anthropologist; decoding issues of identity, gender, and origin that spark debate. Her goal in her current video installation– MyBodyMyself– is to break the linear cinematic narrative by including the viewer in the construction of the story– encouraging women viewing the piece to share their story and therefore add to the discourse. Natacha uses the surrounding environment and incorporates the space as an element in the narrative structure.
Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
I was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Paris. I moved to Brooklyn in 2006 and have always lived in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene area.
How long have you been a practicing artist?
I knew very early on that I wanted to tell stories with videos. I created my first video installation in 2005 and then went to work for a U.N. agency making communication videos for a while before making documentary filmmaking and video art my focus. I starting filming a documentary film set in the Congo in 2007.
Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?
Growing up I watched a lot of television, mostly Japanese manga and American TV series from the 70’s. I was fascinated by the power that movies, series and animes had to transport me, and was always drawn to uncover how the magic happened. It was only during my first year in college in Paris, while I was studying cinema and performing arts, that I was introduced to filmmaking movements like the New Wave and immediately adhered to the counter culture that it stood for at the time. Jump cutting and therefore breaking a movie’s visual continuity felt to me, like the most revolutionary thing that ever happened based on the little movie watching experience that I had at the time. It completely challenged my vision about what a movie is and what it could do. Once in London, studying media and video production I became introduced through my studies to artists such as Bill Viola, Bruce Naumman, filmmakers Jean rouch, Jim Jarmush, Federico Felini and authors Judith Butler, Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes. These figures and their work led the way to discovering and being inspired by filmmakers and video artists who challenge the story telling structure and thrive on leaving some details unexplained.
What do/did your parents do for a living and were they supportive of you becoming an artist?
My mother still lives in Paris, France, where she works as head housekeeper in a hotel. She single-handedly raised four children and supported me in my career choices, encouraged me to pursue my passion but really pushed my siblings and myself to secure a degree. She never judged my choice to do something she didn’t really understand.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I studied cinema and performing Arts at the Université Paris 8, in Paris before transferring to London South Bank University, in London for media and video production.
What inspires you artistically?
I’m inspired by the random things of life and social issues related to gender, identity and sexuality. Reading is usually the first step in my process, whether it’s reading a research paper, a fiction or non-fiction book, a news article or a blog entry. For MyBodyMyself, for instance, I was in Singapore when I came across a second hand book store that was selling a book titled “Every Women Medical Guide Book.” I purchased the book and immediately became fascinated with the way women were represented in it and told– with what seemed to me a dated and patronizing tone– about their sexuality and their body. That book was the beginning of a search to create something that would carry women’s voices that demystified their bodies.
Which other artists inspire you?
Jean-Luc Godard and Terrence Malick are both filmmakers that I admire. I believe they challenge the cinematic experience and juxtapose images in ways that are often seldom seen, the way they use sounds and delivery of the story is always unpredictable to me– their movies never settle for the establishment. I am also always greatly inspired by the installation works of Bill Viola and Bruce Nauman.
What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to visit for inspiration?
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is my place for inspiration– particularly BAM Rose Cinema for its eclectic movie programming and retrospectives– bringing back movies of the “past” and watching movies of “now”— I believe helps foster creativity since one must be imbued with what’s been masterfully done to be inspired.
Do you make a living from your art? If not, do you have a “day job” and what is it?
I’m not able to solely support myself with video art making. I freelance as a video editor and producer for nonprofit organizations and U.N. Agencies.
How did you get started presenting your work publicly?
MybodyMyself is my first public art project and I initially started looking at ways to break prevailing taboo around issues of female sexuality and the body. I also wanted to spark debate as well as challenge people’s ideas and conception of what occurs in a woman’s body over the years. It was clear to me that this project should be in a space where a lot of people could come across it and reach the largest and most diverse kind of people. I like the idea of conversing with the viewer and having the viewer contribute to the piece by adding their perspectives. I like the idea of interactivity with the viewer.