Monday 19 August 2013

Passion led me to promote art and culture -Ugoma Adegoke

Ugoma Adegoke PHOTO: ADA DIKE
She is an artworks curator, organiser of film festival and a fashion designer. Ugoma Adegoke, brain behind Zebra Living and also the managing director and co-founder of Life House alongside her husband, Dayo, reveals in an interview with ADA DIKE what led her to art world.
*As a curator, how many artists have you exhibited their works?
So far, I have exhibited artworks by many artists including Ola Balogun, Chima, Lemi Ghariokwu, Josh Nmesoronye (my cousin I discovered), Gerald Chukwuma and so on. I curated Lemi’s show because he chose me so I wouldn’t take credit for that because it was for me to be inspired by Lemi.  So doing that exhibition for him was a dream come true. It rarely happens that somebody with that experience picked me. Curating an art these days is all about passion and Lemi picked me due to the quality he saw in me and still sees in me. Same goes with Chukwuma whom I did his exhibition in my house and it was quite successful. That is my work. I am always a networker and I can’t exhaust the network alone because it is about community. In every community, it is important to connect one another to opportunities without being selfish. This is the real essence of us - Africans. We stand, when we do things together and fall when we don’t. It is actually where one’s money comes from. I look at it from technical and emotional points of view and conclude that it pays to do things in a communal way. Our fathers like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and others formed Nigeria based on communalism (village principles).
*What is Life House all about?
We promote cultural activities for people to meet each other and know that we are united than divided in our interests. We also educate one another about the essence of being Africans through visual art, films, music and conversation. By so doing, we then see that we are one. In a nutshell, we promote what brings Nigeria and Africa together.
Ugoma Adegoke PHOTO: ADA DIKE
*So what is your next plan?
We have a film festival coming up. That is the next thing we are planning to do. Of course, you know the Life House does a lot of multi art and cultural productions. After the art exhibition we had in May, we had a small music show. The next thing is the film festival which is an annual event coming up at the end of September. We always fix it to coincide a weekend before Nigeria’s Independence Day, that is October 1. This is our third edition and we are working with different venues. The British Council is a supporter, the Wheat Baker Hotel, Southern Sun hotel, Freedom Park, Moore House Hotel and so on. The reason we chose many hotels is because we discovered last year that it’s more convenient for us due to the fact the public can easily access them. Also, they have facilities and when they decided to offer you complimentary accommodation which is their own contribution to us, it makes the show to go smoothly. I focus on film, sounds and programming and they focus on making people comfortable.
Are you going to host the film screenings at the same time at the hotels you mentioned?
This year, we are working with the Wheat Baker hotel, Southern Sun hotel, Moore House Hotel Freedom Park, the British Council and so on for the five-day event and it is five days five venues. It is also a nice travelling festival. The timetable will be published in advance in the media, on blogs and online ( for people to know the day and time the films will be shown.
*What kind of films will viewers and participants expect to watch at the festival?
It is a platform where African entertainment cinema will be shared. Films from many African countries including Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia and so will be screened. We also we have films from African Americans, European films on Africa and educational films. We do a good mix. When we first started, we had fewer Nigerian films because we did not know who those film makers were. The films we show are art based plus documentaries and educational films. This year, animation films will be screened because we are expecting children to also come and watch the films on animation. So there are some slots we asterisked with “Please come with your kids.”
*What is your view about African films, compared with films from other continents you have watched?
I don’t believe in comparisons. We are doing well, couple with the fact that technology is becoming more affordable. We now have access to internet and so on as film makers, so I wouldn’t compare African films with other continents.                                                      
Arguably film producers have had traumas and challenges of film production like us; we are becoming responsible about our roles as film actors, producers and directors.
 In the past five years, films from Africa can compete favourably with any film from other continents but we need to continue to tell our own stories through films and books (of course! How many people are reading?).  Kudos to film actors, producers and directors but there is more to action in order to archive history for our future generation.
Ugoma Adegoke PHOTO: ADA DIKE
You are also into fashion. How did you go into that?
Fashion gives me money and pays me salary. Unfortunately, artworks don’t really bring much to me but I feel fulfilled doing it. Initially, I told myself that if I could balance it, I would be happy and I did.
I started my fashion business in 2007. My father, Mr. Emeka Ebilah from Umudike in Abia State is a very talented structural engineer. So I was surrounded by drawings and engineers in my father’s house. That was my first exposure to design and creativity.
Though I studied Economics and graduated in 2001 and did my Master’s degree in Manchester, United Kingdom also in Economics in 2003. I worked for four years in the financial sector. Along the line, I was restless and curious couple with the fact that my stay in Manchester opened my eyes concerning deriving satisfaction in the job you are doing. There, one person can do two jobs just like what is happening in many banks where someone goes with some clothes and gifts to sell to his or colleagues.  When I moved back to Nigeria in 2006 and saw how people were working hard to survive, it endeared me to try a bit more. While working in a bank, I asked myself “Is this what you really want?” when I left my job, everybody including my father thought I was mad, asking: “Why I should leave a paying job and chase after fashion despite the fact you don’t know much about fashion as a profession?” I knew that it‘s what I have passion for and I have always been interested in aesthetic things. I know how to make things look good, be it decoration or furniture. I always rearrange my home and also do it for my friends for free. So it then trickles into sound because I love music. I have learnt that there is no boundary to what one can do that is why I do fashion, art exhibition and organize film festival. Within the few years we started Life House, its success has spread beyond Africa. My husband was in New York recently, he was stopped by some people who visited Nigeria and attended our events.
We really need supporters and sponsors to enable us promote art and culture to next level in Nigeria.  We need a permanent physical space and venue; apart from the venues some of our supporters have obliged us. For example, the upcoming film festival will take place in multiple venues at the same period and the same amount of days. It makes that programme much bigger. This new idea which came out of necessity has catapulted our festival positively, that is why it is now bigger. 
When we moved out of our former office at 33, Sinari Daranijo Street on Victoria Island, Lagos last year, we made up our mind that we must continue to promote art and culture, despite the impediment of a permanent venue. We are glad that we have these centres where the films will be screened free to spectators so we want professionals, adults and students to attend the festival and watch rare gems – films that you hardly watch in cinemas.
Ugoma Adegoke PHOTO: ADA DIKE
*After doing the fashion business for some years, have you learnt how to draw patterns and design cloths?
I have somebody who does that. I normally come up with the ideas and instruct people to design them because I don’t have to do everything. I have a team that does the technical stuff while I conceptualize, create designs, direct and market the products even online. My clothes are very stylish and affordable. So my clients base is from age 18 to age 60 and above. I also design clothes for 70 years old women who want to look chic on African clothing. We don’t do trend because I don’t believe in trends but classic designs that look good on women.  We also do staples like rack dresses and shirts.
*Where can prospective client meet you?
We have events on regular basis such as trunk show and exhibitions within and outside Nigeria including New York, United States of America. We don’t only sell Nigerian brand but also have Ghanaian and Senegalese brands. I always mix my holiday with business so I always host Zebra where people can buy including my friends. Even if I have a million shops, I will still do trunk show because that is how I meet and know my customers. If I don’t know someone, I will still know him or her at some point because I normally talk to them. What really matters to me is that I am making an impact. Money is not everything. Not that I don’t need money because I don’t want to be broke, but I must enjoy my work as an art and culture promoter.

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