Meet Our Members: Wemmy Ogunyankin

Photographer, ethnographic filmmaker and writer Wemmy Ogunyankin chats to us about her upcoming exhibition How I See Myself and How Others See Me which launches on 5th March at Dina.

How I See Myself and How Others See Me is an ethnographic multimedia project that explores identity, self and the multiplicity of womanhood. It unpicks the costumes women often have to wear in life and asks who we are, or want to be, when that costume comes off. This is done with poetry (based on conversations I had with the women I met) and photography.

The project was inspired by the realisation that I often feel the need to be different around certain people. So… who am I really? Am I confident and outgoing? Or am I shy and awkward? I also wanted to know why there was a difference in how I presented myself. Why did people have these expectations and how could I challenge them? As women, we all experience this multiplicity of identity, juggling different personas that we’re expected to wear such as woman, mother, daughter, friend, creative, professional, etc. I wanted to see what lay beneath these guises, and really hear what these people had to say. Hence the “I am…”. 

The project has been a real privilege to carry out. I have met 20 amazing women and collaboratively told their stories, and now I have an exciting exhibition at DINA from the 5th March to 29th April 2022. It’s been amazing to do this and I never expected an exhibition at all. But, I felt these stories really needed to be seen in a public space, especially with how open, honest and vulnerable the participants were with me. 

Meeting and working with the participants has been my favourite part of this research project. I can be quite closed off to new things, not often keen on meeting new people or making friends. It’s amazing how much this project has shifted that. How they showed me it’s okay to be honest and vulnerable. And it’s okay to know your truth and share it. I’ve made 20 new friends, which I would never have thought I’d want, but here I am… excited about it.

This process was also a challenge though. I can perform very well, so I was worried I’d spend a lot of time not being myself, trying to impress, overthinking, avoiding and getting in my own way. I needed to build trust with my participants, just like they needed to do with me. And only through repeated experience did I overcome that nervousness. That led to a bit of confidence, which improved my writing, my research and my willingness to share my work (terrible for that, always hiding). I realised over these past few months that if I just did something, it couldn’t actually go badly. At worst, I’d learn something. But at best, I could have an amazing exhibition in one of my favourite spots in the city. 

How I See Myself and How Others See Me is a passion project in the best sense of the word. I have been able to use my anthropological knowledge and creative nature to do something that feels important. And I challenge the typical meaning of importance too. It doesn’t have to be huge, grand and world changing. Even if it’s important just to the women I met, that would be enough for me. I’m grateful to The Arts Council for giving me the opportunity to do something like this, and grateful to DINA for hosting what is going to be a great exhibition with a cool launch with great vibes, music and a DJ. 

And I’m excited to do my next visual (and auditory) anthropology projects on love, identity and the African diaspora. Watch this space.

How I See Myself and How Others See Me launches on March 5th until April 29th. Tickets available here.