Okwui Okpokwasili receives a MacArthur ‘genius’ fellowship

Charmaine Patricia Warren | 10/25/2018, 1 p.m.
New York choreographer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili is one of 25 fellows who received a MacArthur “genius” grant. This award, ...
Okwui Okpokwasili, choreographer and performer Contributed

New York choreographer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili is one of 25 fellows who received a MacArthur “genius” grant. This award, which often comes as a welcome surprise for artists, is unrestricted in that they are acknowledged for their originality and dedication to making work, with no strings attached.

“It’s not completely settling in,” says Okpokwasili, “I’m awash in a wave of love and well wishes, pride and hope, in what this award portends. I feel that I surround myself with genius, with people pushing the boundaries of their respective fields, so to have folks reach out to me with gladness fills me with gratitude.”

Known in the dance world as having worked closely with choreographer Ralph Lemon and more immediately through projects with her husband, Peter Born, Okpokwasili brings her life experiences to her work. Born and raised in the Bronx to immigrant parents from Nigeria, her work is steeped in telling diasporic stories about girls and women through her blend of dance, theater and the visual arts. Some recent works include “Poor People’s TV Room” (2017), “Bronx Gothic” (2014) and “Pent Up: A Revenge Dance” (2008). As a writer, she creates multidisciplinary performance pieces that harken the voices of women of color, especially African and African-American women whose voices she insists have been silenced but must be heard.

Okpokwasili added, “As a woman of color, doing the particular work I am doing, exploring the complexity of the psychic field women of color inhabits, and from that place I find movement vocabularies—I feel I can and must keep doing that.”

Like the other 24 fellows, Okpokwasili will receive $625,000 over five years to support her on-going creative process, directly from the MacArthur Foundation. Although she admits that she doesn’t feel the pressure of this acknowledgement just yet, there is a “wind surge to keep going.”

“Maybe that will change,” she said, “but I’m 46 years old and I’ve got to keep chasing the useful questions. I want to keep my mind right…my plans are to keep going.”

Other 2018 New York recipients in the arts are Julie Ault (artist and curator), Dominique Morisseau (playwright) and Wu Tsang (filmmaker and performance artist). For more information, visit www.

macfound.org.