“Only time will tell how I’ll fit in.” Ugo Woatzi on bridging the corporal, spatial and sexual

This summer, BOZAR is hosting Somewhere In Between, an exhibition which celebrates the vast array of art practices in Europe and tells the stories of anyone who’s someone in the diverse world of European contemporary art. Spread across different venues within Belgium and constellations further afield, it showcases the artistic dialogue taking place in the continent today.

As part of BOZAR’s ambitious show, Brussels-based curators Romuald Demidenko and Hélène Jacques have prepared Fremdkörper: Non-normative body and voice mapping, a group exhibition of voices both upcoming and established, to explore the elusive boundaries between physical corporalities and abstract identities. For the occasion, we’ve invited five of the signed artists to showcase their works.

Since growing up near Toulouse, photographer Ugo Woatzi (1991) moved to Brussels to partake in a Photography MA at Brussels’ LUCA. Aside from taking advantage of the prime lighting of Brussels’ summer in the next few months, he’s also one of Fremdkörper’s participants. Hardly mincing his words, Woatzi reflcts on the experiences of his past and upbringing which lead him to find an outlet in photography.

At its core, what is your work about? How would you describe it?

My work focuses on the male and queer body, questioning the codes of gender and masculinity and exploring the bond between the body, space and sexual identity.

 What is its starting point and statement?

I guess I became interested in these topics through my own personal history. As a kid growing up in a very patriarchal and heteronormative environment, expressing my homosexuality was pretty much impossible. Photography, for me, was a form of self-recovery.

 Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

I considr my work to be visual activism – I try to defend and express my ideas through photography. 

What characterises your work?

I like to pay attention to colours, shapes, lights and shadows, and try to express different ideas through my images. I use a metaphorical visual language in my photography, and also like to portray a sense of freedom and imagination for the viewer to connect with. 

How do you work on a piece, from start to finish?

I usually put some ideas on a sheet of paper, then contact models or friends, explain my ideas and spend some hours with them shooting and trying different things out. At the end of the day I’ll look over everything we did.

What series and / or project are you currently working on?

I’ve started to work on a series where I explore the use of virtual spaces, meaning a space where you can exist in a different way.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?

One of my mentors, Samuel Fosso.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

I face many challenges in my work today, especially during the previous months in Brussels with an increasing number of attacks against the LGBTQI+ community.

 How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?

I don’t know, that’s a difficult question. As I said, I consider my photographs to be a kind of visual activism, going byond the contemporary art scene. Only time will tell how I’ll fit in.

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

My community really inspires me, whether it’s here in Brussels or in Johannesburg where I also work. I photograph the people around me who inspire me, and who are also part of the queer community. This place gave me the illusion of a safe space.

What does success look like to you?

Being happy and proud of what I do and who I am.

Which Belgian artists do you follow, look at for inspiration? Either from the past
or the present.

Hugo Roelandt is a beautiful source of inspiration to me.

On a more personal note, how does your everyday inform your work?

I think the different places I go to during the day inspire my work a lot: public and private spaces, the digital sphere, and of course all the people I come across in all these places. 

And what do your parents, your family, think of what you do?

They know that I’m a photographer, but they don’t really know my topics orpurpose I guess. We don’t really talk about it that much. They are from a different generation and environment, after all.