Kanchana Ugbabe, Artist at Risk Writer from Nigeria

Resident at Westbeth from 2017 to 2019

Westbeth: Reflections

With borders closed and airplanes in the sky a rare sight, I might have to develop virtual wings to take myself to the West Village, New York City, and to Westbeth, which was my home for two years. Christina Maile and I are off to Hello Saigon on Bleecker Street for an early Friday lunch. Another day it is Malaparte (I am introduced to the New York City “avocado on toast”), then Philip Marie on Hudson Street, and Tartine on West 11th. We are connected as writers, artists, and book lovers. I am fascinated by Christina’s tall tales. They come with the extraordinary imagination that is evident in her short stories and prints. Some of the best books I have read were suggested by her — Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, Mary Oliver’s poetry, and many others. Christina is a printmaker, an event photographer, an organizer, a historian, and a landscape architect. We made our lunch meetings somewhat regular as I got introduced to the West Village neighborhood, to good books, and to life at Westbeth. I was privileged to have Christina visit my Creative Writing class at Fordham University. The students loved her art and her short stories – seventy minutes were simply not enough to see the perspectives and the connections.

It was the warm, friendly faces at Westbeth that made it a home for me for two years. Bayan at the front desk had interesting stories from his childhood in the Bronx, the history of the migrations of African Americans to the north, jazz and blues, and Islam as it was practiced by African Americans. Bayan would take off on any subject. I would have to interrupt his story and step out, only to have him continue on my return.

Sandra Kingsbury was the provider who made sure I didn’t lack anything by way of furniture. Sandra and her husband Ted would haul desks, chest of drawers, and bookshelves from the eleventh floor to my apartment on the third floor. Sandra looked out for me and emailed me useful information. Christina and Sandra were my guardian angels at Westbeth. They introduced me to the Westbeth Flea Market, which was a treasure trove as well as a place for finding practical and useful things.

Elisa Decker’s art photography drew my attention to height, depth, and the palimpsestic layers in the simple and ordinary objects around us. She was an inspiration to me as we frequently shared coffee and art. Ellen Marshall and I exchanged books and stories. Joan Hall’s collage workshop opened up new dimensions for me in the art world. She was a gracious host to the reading I gave in her apartment during the PEN World Voices Festival. She also hosted my students from Fordham for a breathtaking tour of her collages in her apartment.

Westbeth for me is people — creative, inspiring, hospitable, compassionate, and generous.

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