Wilson Oryema for Augustinus Bader
We challenged Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson to shoot a series of images that would reframe the human body and provoke people to reconsider their own remarkable machine. One of his subjects is Wilson Oryema, a conscious and considered creative force who likens modelling to performance art.
Seeing no boundaries between disciplines, Wilson launches his ideas and physicality out into the world through art, activism, writing and modelling. Having first picked up a camera in his teens, he looked towards graphic design and technology before being scouted as a model in 2014. Championed by menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner, he has since worked for names including Calvin Klein and Kenzo, and appears alongside a stellar cast in the 2018 Pirelli calendar, a celebration of black beauty that reimagines Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Raised in Brixton by a mother who worked for charities including the Red Cross, he has blogged for Raise the Roof, a charity focussing on sustaining locally run projects in Kenya. His latest project, Wait, probed our cycles of desire through a photo/video exhibition, and most recently a self-published book featuring original poems and stories.
We caught up with Wilson on shoot with Christopher Anderson in Barcelona, to find out how he goes about realising his potential and what the body means to him.
The body is…
The body is a vessel which we use to move on this physical plane. I don't feel that we are actually our bodies. I feel we're much more than that and can transcend the physical.
On finding fascination in the human body
Everything fascinates me about the body. Whether it's how stretchy the skin is or the, the blood cells, which travel through and pass oxygen around the body. The pumping organs, not just the heart. The lungs, which fill with air. Yeah, I think it's everything that works together in a beautiful concerto and it allows me to live and thrive. I think the body's amazing.
On connecting with your own body
To feel a connection to my body I have to move. So it may be dancing, it may be going for a walk, running, swimming. Or sometimes even just sitting meditating – closing your eyes and trying to feel every part from the tips of your toes towards the ankles and up the shins and going to the knee and across the body.
On realising optimum health
Whether it’s seeing a runner run and jump without any hesitation or seeing someone bend or contort their body in interesting ways – what they do to reach that point? I find that very interesting and I’ve started to delve a bit more into that. How do you make your body most efficient for your experience so whatever comes at you can be handled in the best way possible?
What interests me is, where I can go that I haven’t gone before in terms of: how will my diet or the way I move enable me to live longer and experience certain things in ways other humans haven’t? How, by living a certain lifestyle, I can take myself to better places? This excites me about the body.
On the body’s response to emotions
If I feel fear I may feel a striking pain in my chest and that's my body's way. Or if something's making me feel sad I may have a feeling to cry. Or if it's happiness, it's like a massive enveloping feeling. I feel like that’s the same as everyone.
I know some people may get hives when they get nervous, but I just embrace the feeling and go through it. If I feel fear of something I usually have to dive into it – I can’t let it sit with me. You don't have to be happy all the time, and it's not like you never have to be sad. It's good to go through a range of emotions – it shows that you're living a full life.
I have certain feelings when I need to get a message. Before I even conceive it analytically I may know, “Oh I shouldn't be here right now,” or “maybe I should go and take a rest.” I can’t ignore those feelings, I'm very aware of them as soon as they arrive in my body. I think that's one thing that's really pushed me to get into a deeper connection with my body, because if it’s feeling something, I need to get that message right away.
On trusting yourself
In the last ten years I’ve learned: trust yourself and don’t hold back. A lot of issues may have been resolved quicker I had just trusted myself a bit more with my ideas and what I want to spend time on, who I want to spend that time with. Just be honest with your feelings.
I’ve never had a proper mentor. I’ve got one, but they’re more like a friend. You can’t give or take advice in most situations because every personal situation is tailored to you. I really feel like a lot of the lessons I’ve learned have come from reading books or from life experiences and then just analyzing. If something happens to you and you don’t know why, you need to learn why, otherwise it will just keep repeating itself. Life itself has been a big teacher for me.