Artist Profile: Linda Ozromano
Author: Yang Lim
Based currently in Edmonton, Linda Ozromano is a self-taught photographer whose artistic sensibility is shaped by a convergence of various interests and experiences that have, in turn, cultivated her interest in other cultures. This convergence can be summed up by her comment: “My passion for travel as well as community development combined with curiosity over how art influences our political, social and emotional realities had the biggest impact on my artistic practice.”
Ozromano has been significantly involved with the local and international community in the areas of public advocacy, human rights, humanitarian aid, and sustainable development. For example, she has been involved with non-profit organizations for many years. This included working with organizations such as Operation Groundswell in Toronto and volunteering in Uganda in 2011, followed by a return there in 2014, during which she participated in educational and international initiatives. Furthermore, she has collaborated with artists on community art projects to address societal issues.
As such, her photography is shaped significantly by her social conscience as well as her engagement with social and cultural issues. As Ozromano states, she is attracted to the photographic medium because she can use it as “a tool to see the world,” through which she can uncover “the ordinary and the mundane” as well as the unknown and unfamiliar. She feels that people do not pay enough attention to the ordinary in urban cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton. Therefore, her depictions of ordinary people and street life aim to humanize its inhabitants and represent them as three-dimensional, complex individuals. Ozromano hopes that her works will encourage people to recognize and foster mutual connections among each other:
I think the best moments are the ones that we think are mundane and ordinary. There is a certain beauty in what is usually not exposed or captured. I like to seek for those moments. I also think if we allow ourselves to fully experience emotions in a healthy and open way, we may discover so much of what we didn’t know about ourselves as well as each other - and this is where all the wisdom comes from.
The development of her artistic practice begins with Project Maisha, which exemplifies her keen interest in capturing the humanity of people and their respective communities. While fundraising for her volunteer trip to Uganda in 2011, a friend gave her a piggy-bank that is shaped like an orange elephant and suggested that she name her. Ozromano decided to name the orange elephant “Maisha” which means “life” in Swahili, and to bring it along on her trip. Consequently, the elephant became a means for Ozromano to experience and reflect on her journey through different communities, during which she used photography to document the places and people whom she met. The elephant would often generate curiosity and interest among people and serve as a starting point for generating conversation, particularly among young people. Ozromano likened her photographing of the elephant to the movie of Amélie, in which the main protagonist Amélie would take photos with a garden gnome—so that it seemed like he was travelling around the world.
Through this photographic series, Ozromano explores the ways in which storytelling can function as a means to connect people as well as create a sense of home and belonging through the generation of a shared narrative of experience. The elephant itself could be said to function as a metaphor or focal point for the interpersonal connections among the people. Furthermore, her photos convey the humanity and individuality of the African kids, which differ significantly from the homogenous images of impoverished and starving African kids that circulate in the mainstream media. Although poverty and hardship certainly exist in Africa, these are not the only conditions that impact people’s lives there; however, the mainstream media has tended to focus on these characteristics, which has resulted in a reductive representation of the continent that does not adequately reflects the diversity and individuality of its people. Through Project Maisha, Ozromano challenges and deconstructs that image.
Her subsequent photographic series reflect a continual interest in Africa and with capturing images of people’s everyday lives. For example, she depicts images of street life in Memoirs from Istanbul and evocative images of Iceland’s landscape, architecture, and community life in Getting Lost in Iceland. In Zanzibar Unveiled, she depicts everyday life in Zanzibar, juxtaposed with some scenic imagery. Through this, Ozromano appears to ask audiences to consider the actual lives of inhabitants beneath the attractive beach, water, and scenery that typically attracts tourists. Mama Land, East Africa includes posed and candid shots of children and adults.
Ozromano’s sense of herself as someone with a hyphenated identity also informs her work. As a Turkish Jew, she is part of a minority population in her home country, so her self-identity is informed by a variety of different layers. Having immigrated to Canada twelve years ago as an international student, she has made Canada home ever since. As a result, her interest in home and belonging can be seen in her work, including the photographic series that she exhibited at this year’s The Works Art and Design Festival. The series Colours are Emotions explores how people wear emotions as masks and, more specifically, how colours can convey or respond to particular emotions as well as how objects may represent certain emotions.
In each photo, Ozromano positions herself in the middle by facing the camera and holding a particular object, besides which she has also painted her face a certain colour that acts as a mask. In one photo, her face is painted green and she is holding her passport, whereas in another her face is painted red and she is holding a National Post issue that has the front-page headline “Vegas Gunman’s Body Found Amid 23 Guns.” As a result, the photos invite audiences to think about what emotions they associate with certain colours, consider how they feel about her and the objects being portrayed, and assess their own relationship to those very objects. Indeed, Ozromano’s face mask in each photo appears to function as a metaphor for people’s emotions and the ways in which these can impact on the choices that one makes, whether negatively or positively.
Reflecting on her artistic practice and relationship with her audience, Ozromano strives to evoke emotional responses from people through her work and to encourage a sense of connection and mutual recognition of each other’s humanity:
I like to see myself, not only as a photographer, but more so as a visual storyteller and story activist. I certainly like to convey a message: however, I think most importantly it is how my artwork makes the audience feel rather than think or perceive. Feelings like melancholy, nostalgia, grief and longing are not easy to approach but I like to give people space to feel vulnerable and help them see humanity in all the stories I try to depict.
Currently, Ozromano is working on a documentary series based on her recent photography of her grandmother’s house in Turkey, through which she will explore topics such as her heritage, hyphenated identity, and sense of home and belonging. To learn more about Ozromano’s art, visit her website at https://www.lindaozromano.com/ or follow @lindaozromanophotography on Instagram.