Ugo Woatzi (1991) is a Photographer and Visual Artist working between Brussels (BE) and Johannesburg (SA). He graduated from the Market Photo Work of Johannesburg in 2016 and finished his master with distinction at the Luca School Of Arts in Brussels in 2019. He exhibited at BOZAR Brussels, Recyclart Brussels and Hazard Gallery Johannesburg.
Chameleon is a photo essay about visibility and stands as a conversation between masculinities and spaces. Looking beyond heteronormative confines the still frames evoke the love, fear, joy and safe environments of people that exist outside these constructs that can be suffocating. A narrative both personal and collective, a statement, an escape through beauty ; Ugo Woatzi creates his photographs through evocations of his own experiences and people from his community. He is developing himself as a queer artist.
“With this body of work, I want to encourage queer people to show themselves and share their story through photography.”
An interest that sticks to the bond between, space, body and gender he is equally engaged in celebrating as well as questioning the diversity of masculinities. Working metaphorically, he stages his work and plays with light, shape, colour and shadow. Chameleon becomes a metaphor of the small little lizard that occupies space but simultaneously hides in plain sight. This camouflage ability is for Ugo an expression of what he seeks to open up dialogue about–those of us who live but hide in plain sight and do not fit the conventional moulds constructed by heteronormativity.
- Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where did you grow up, how did you “find” art, how did your love of art and photography started?
I grew up in a patriarchal and traditional environment in the countryside of France where being gay was not accepted and I had to follow certain codes and rules in order to become “a man”. I used photography as a tool to express myself and to question my body, my genders, my sexuality. I think Samuel Fosso was the one who made me fall in love with photography. I started focusing full time on photography at the Market Photo Workshop of Johannesburg where I’ve been studying in 2016. I graduated this year from the master of photography at Luca School of Arts in Brussels.
- Who or what inspires you? Anything at all. Or rather, are there certain things that you think about when you’re beginning a series of photographs?
I built my work through evocations of my own experiences and people from my community. It is A narrative both personal and collective. Photographers as Ren Hang, Samuel Fosso, Claude Cahun and Vivian Sassen definitely inspired my visual language.
- Are you afraid of being judged for your sexuality? Did you feel pressure not to discuss your sexuality?
I was afraid of being judge by my sexuality and I still do sometimes. When I was a young boy I didn't know that being attracted to a person of the same sex could be an issue, I guess I was a bit naive. That’s why for many years I was not able to talk about it and I was trying to hide it as much as I could.
- How has your sexuality affected your career?
My sexuality definitely shaped the purpose of my work. I’m sure a lot of queer kids are suffering today as I was. I really see my work as a form of visual activism. One of my teacher was always telling me “Ugo, photography is about you”.
- How did the idea of the project come to life?
The idea of Chameleon come to life by sharing stories with people from my community but also by making a connection between my past and who I am today. This is how this conversation between masculinities and spaces started and how I build my visual language.
- Do you feel the public forces you to be a spokesperson for the gay community?
Definitely not but I do undertake this position in a way I guess. I want to encourage queer people to show themselves and share their story through photography.
- How do you choose the people you portray?
Most of the people I portray are friends, some photographs are performative while others are fragments of people’s lives who surround me.
- Do you think nowadays people is more aware of LGBTQ+ visibility?
It is a photo essay about visibility and Chameleon becomes a metaphor of the small little lizard that occupies space but simultaneously hides in plain sight. This camouflage ability is for me an expression of what I seek to open up dialogue about–those of us who live but hide in plain sight and do not fit the conventional moulds constructed by heteronormativity.
- What are your plans for this year?
I’ll be working for a gallery space in Istanbul called Pi Artworks for fews months from September. I’ll keep on going with the Chameleon project and I would like to start a new body of work based on self portraiture.