Light on a Woman Artist

Marie Bagi presents to you,


Oda Tungodden
Oda Tungodden

- Tell me a bit about you and your path…

I am a Norwegian artist based between Cape Town, South Africa and Bergen, Norway. The core of my artistic practice centres on contemporary figure painting. An interest point for me has been to try to understand how cultures shape our ideas around identity, belonging and how we understand the world.


I grew up on the west coast of Bergen, Norway. But large part of my formative memories from childhood are from travels abroad. Through my parents’ work, we had the opportunity to spend longer times abroad in places such as USA, Canada, England and Tanzania. In my life I found I had both the excitement of encountering new 

cultures, spaces and people, and a safe sense of rootedness in Norway.


This sparked my interest in understanding how cultures and societies are like lenses through which we learn to see.

In my late teens I struggled with mental illness, and at 19 I left to South Africa for treatment. A large part of my treatment, and subsequent recovery was concerned with getting to know myself better. Through understanding and identifying negative internalized beliefs, I was able to critically challenge and engage these. This process led me to an interest in the opportunities and empowerment available as a result of better knowing and understanding myself. This has continued to be an important area of exploration in my artistic practise.


I graduated from Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT in 2018, and have since been represented by 99 Loop Gallery in Cape Town. I am currently working towards my second solo-show with the gallery in September 2020.


In addition to this work, I have also had the opportunity to do several murals in Cape Town and Durban. I have also organized and hosted several pop-up groups shows in non commercial spaces. Since 2018 I have also been running a weekly life drawing session in Cape Town.

 Last year I started the project Open Loop together with my South African colleague Louisa Bronkhorst. The project is fuelled by a desire to create new ways to connect and showcase art.  (I have written more on this below).


- How did you get involved with art? Have you always create ?


I have always enjoyed creating- both in relation to creating works of art and creating events and opportunities related to my art practice. Drawing and painting has been part of my life since early childhood. As a young girl of six years old I remember obsessively drawing girls. On a roll of paper, I would sketch out a rough grid and fill each block with a girl. In my teens I would transform parts our home to create a pop-up exhibition, and later I have continued to create group shows and events that bring artists together in informal spaces. In my early twenties I decided to pursue art fulltime. At this point I knew it was what I wanted to do. I spent a year as an apprentice for a local artist, learning about oil painting for the first time, before I went on to study at UCT.


- How art and psychology are connected for you ?


My artistic practise is centred on a desire to better understand myself and the world I live in. Theories from psychology have also been very influential in this regard. I like to use my art as a tool to connect with myself and with people. In many ways my artistic process is an extension of the traditional therapeutic process. I am interested in how the process of creating art can reveal new aspects of myself to myself. In my art making, the lines between life as the subject of art and life as art are blurred. In the act of making, I find space to explore different aspects of being.


- When did you first expose your work ?


Since the age of 17 I have hosted and created pop-up exhibitions to show my work, but aside from this my first major opportunity to show work was through the graduate exhibiton at Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2018. This annual event is a staple in the South African art calendar, and thus is very well visited by collectors and galleries.


Following the graduation I was offered a solo show with a gallery in Cape Town, 99 Loop Gallery, where I would have my first official show in August 2019. Prior to that I had also taken part in some group shows since graduating.


- How hard is it to get a recognition in South Africa ?

This is a very hard question to answer, and I am not sure I know yet. So far I feel very lucky to have the opportunities presented to me that I have had. Although I hesistate to say I have gained recognition yet, I can talk about what has assisted my journey as an artist this far.

Certainly attending a well respected university such as Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town was the biggest ‘in’ for me to the art industry in South Africa. Like I mentioned above, galleries very much follow the new graduates, thus its a huge opportunity for new artists to get attention.

Throughout my studies I had also worked hard on doing side projects to establish myself and get a wide network.


Lastly, having an active and well tended to instagram account has proved to be very helpful in getting recognition.


- How intimacy shows up into your art’s pieces ?


I use my own experiences as a starting point, and thus there is always a sense of rawness and vulnerabilty in my artistic process. In many of my works I have used photos from my own family albums as reference, and thus there is another layer of added intimacy in my relationship to those I choose to paint.

In my paintings I work through expériences that are deeply personal, and often emotional to me, yet also widely shared by many people. In many ways they are an intimate exploration of our shared nature as humans.


- Is there a place where we can see your work permanently ?

Comissioned murals I have done in the cityscape and for restaurants, mostly in Cape Town, are permantly on view for spectators. With regarads to my work on canvas, my shows have been commercial shows, and thus most of my work have found new homes with their collectors. I have an upcoming soloshow in September at 99 Loop Gallery where my newest body of work will be shown.


- Can you talk about one of your art’s piece and how is it important for you ?


‘Liberty and the little leaders’ was part of my last show ‘Wall Flowers’ at 99 Loop Gallery. The painting, in pinks and greens, depicts three children walking through what looks like a cave filled with rocks and water. The reference for the painting merged two different photographs from my childhood of my brothers and I. Thus there was a personal sentimentality in knowing who the three people where, an ode to my oldest friends. However, to anyone else they could be anyone. I deliberately painted the subjects vague. In this series of work I was looking at the blurred boundaries between personal and public memory, and the deeply intimate moments that are characteristic to the human experience. Each painting in ‘Wall Flowers’ reimagined my own childhood memories and paired them with a work from art history. Liberty and the little leaders alludes to the painting ‘Liberty leading the people’ by Eugène Delacroix.

- Are you making some artivites around your work ? If yes, can you propose one for the Espace Artistes Femmes ?


In relation to this question there are a varitey of ways in which I can imagine getting involved with Espace Artistes Femmes, and I really look forward to further discussing these opportunities with you. I would suggest perhaps we can oraganize a skype meeting to chat more about this.


Here are some thoughts on the question :


I would love to, if possible, in the future create a (physical) exhibition for the space that included interactive éléments to engage audience and participants. I am very interested in the relationship between the viewer and the artwork, and looking at new ways of creating art that engages a broader audience.


I have created and hosted a variety of workshops, from life drawing to painting. If there is any budget allocated to workshops for Espace Artistes Femmes I would be very interested in creating a workshop for the space.


Like I mentioned on the phone I also run a project called Open Loop together with my colleague Louisa Bronkhorst. We created Open Loop because we wanted more opportunities for artists and galleries to exhibit, create connections and conversations globally. Open Loop has two main avenues, Open Loop for Galleries and Open Loop for Artists.

Open Loop for Galleries is a platform that faciliate space swaps between galleries across the world. Initally our first show was scheduled to take place in a gallery in Oslo in October 2020 showing works from two South African galleries. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, we have had to postpone this program.


Open Loop for Artists is an intimate space for artists to exchange knowledge and ideas, establish new connections from across the world and support each other’s growth as artists. Through this platform we arrange virtual studio visits, talks and other opportunities to artists.


I think that it would be interesting to create a collaborative activity between Open Loop for Artists and Espace Artistes Femmes through a virtual medium, and perhas something we could translate into a physical presentation in your space. I need a little more time to think through what that might be at, but perhaps this is also something we can discuss more next time we chat ?

As an example, I am currently running a month long workshop called Virtual Studio Sessions with six artists through Open Loop. We meet weekly through a digital platform to discuss and share our work. The iniative is aimed at giving artists an opportunity to critically discuss and engage with other artists. I have attached more information about this workshop. So far the feedback has been very good for the workshop, and we have a lot of interest from artists to join. I think that a digital workshops with a similar structure to this, but focusing on female artists and visibilty could be an interesting way to go.

Author : Marie Bagi, Contemporary art history and Philosophy, PhD.

Published on the July 23rd, 2020