If there is anything Eli Osei (MC ‘26) is good at making art from, it’s chaos. When he was 17, his Uber collided with another car. Sitting in the backseat, Eli let the initial shock wear off. Then he picked up his camera and began to take photos.
Over the next few months, a new photography series developed from the wreckage. Whenever Eli rode in the back of an Uber, he took photos of the world around him, both coping with the newfound anxiety he felt in cars and taking advantage of a new source of inspiration. In Eli’s world, when life gives you lemons, you start a new art project.
Eli has always shaped every experience into an opportunity for creation. His first love was playwriting: he began acting in plays from grade four and wrote his first play titled Checkmate when he was in grade 10. Checkmate switches between depicting a chess game played between two men, one Black and one white, and important historical events related to the development of apartheid. As a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Eli felt his history classes made the atrocities of apartheid “[feel] like they had happened decades ago, when really, it was all very recent.” Taking the reader on a trip between past and present, his play attempts to capture this disjunction.
While Eli is a playwright first, he enjoys taking pictures of his hometown, his friends, and anything else he deems worthy of capturing. In his collection of multimedia projects, Eli weaves written and visual components into a single story, combining his photography and playwriting skills. He has also delved into other art forms; recently, first-year students living in Durfee Hall entryway B found themselves in the midst of an impromptu art exhibit, the hallway littered with pink and yellow sticky notes. Written on them were a collection of messages ranging from movie quotes—“The world is ours”—to more thought-provoking questions—“What do you stand for?.”
His micro-replication of an exhibit by Miranda July, in which she handpainted significant quotes and memories from her life onto wooden signs to be hung up in a hallway, pulled Eli out of a creative slump. However, he had also made it with the purpose of bringing joy to his floormates, a focus on connection indicative of his artistry. “What I’ve chosen to focus on in my life is less of a singular art form and more of an idea,” he said. “I want to understand why people perceive the world in such unique ways and how their upbringing has shaped them.” Dipping into different mediums has given Eli the freedom to better explore human perception.
Despite an extensive resume of screen-plays and other multimedia projects, Osei struggled with understanding how art fit into his life and career aspirations. The realization that art in itself was not the only contribution he wanted to make to the world came into discussion late one night on the phone with a friend from his hometown. In a perfect world, they concluded: “we would both want to be artists.” However, Eli was determined to make the effects of his art tangible: “I don’t want to just write about inequality or take pictures of it,” he tells me. “I want to learn how to pair art with practice.”
Already, his involvement in improv, sketch comedy, and stage-directing at the university indicates a long four years of projects that we are yet to see from Eli. “Being in New Haven, I find myself walking down the streets and taking photos of the things I see,” he tells me. “There is meaning in everything, and getting inspiration can be as structured as the process I just showed you or as free as living your life and finding beauty wherever you go.”
Photos by Eli Osei