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Ugoma Adegoke: We provide a platform for the celebration of film as art form’

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Ugoma Adegoke is a creative entrepreneur, gallerist, and foremost multi-arts curator. Founding director and chief curator of BLOOM Art, Lagos, she describes herself as a tireless community builder, arts advocate, passionate art collector and dynamic tastemaker. In 2014, she originated an important art repatriation transaction, which saw significant pieces of 1980s modernist Nigerian art worth over N70 million returned to Nigeria. She runs a vibrant art salon in Lagos, where she deals in art and hosts private exhibitions and artist talks which are attended by the country’s most important art collectors, patrons, diplomats and scholars.

Ugoma has successfully closed several private secondary market transactions; placing invaluable modern and contemporary artworks in the collections of some of the continent’s greatest collectors. She avidly promotes and supports the work of artists and creatives as curator and director through her private gallery and through her work as consultant curator for Constant Capital, where she hosts and curates quarterly exhibitions. Curating and producing art exhibitions with exciting and accomplished visual artists, she is also the founder and artistic director of the Lights, Camera, Africa!!! Film Festival. The festival turns nine this year and is aptly themed, ‘Tales By Moonlight’. She sat down with Guardian Woman to talk about the upcoming festival, what first time attendees can expect, her Woman Rising platform that connects female creatives to opportunities and buyers, the challenges and future of Nigerian arts amongst other issues.

Why did you decide to pursue arts, especially as you read economics and already had a lucrative career in finance?
I would say I was called to the Arts and in a serendipitous way, I can say that Arts chose me. I always focused on the experiential elements of the events I was producing (with my fashion label at the time, Zebra Living) and the private soirees I would host at home. Not before long, “experience” and “experiential living” became signatures of mine and artists soon sought out a kindred spirit in me and I obeyed their call.

Tell us about your journey in this field so far, has it been difficult?
I have intentionally very poor memory, so I don’t hang on to or remember the difficulties as much. Yes, I have been through evictions, duping, backstabbing and generally experienced some really caustic clients and colleagues, but really, who hasn’t? I love my work and my life fully and I take the good and bad with grace and relish.

Have you ever been tempted to give up and go back to familiar terrains?
Never. I was courted for years by my former bosses from my corporate days, but I have a stubborn romanticism about the arts and planting my flag on the Nigerian creative story, which is driven by passion and love. There is no going back and no temptations to give up.

As a Curator, what do you consider before deciding to exhibit an artist?
The urgency and purity of the story the artist wants to tell, their general disposition and character; and their sense of idealism.

This year’s edition of the Lights Camera Africa!!! Film Festival is here, what is going to be different about this year?
This year’s theme is titled, “Tales by Moonlight” and I am super excited. It hasn’t been easy planning my 40th birthday and our ninth annual film festival at the same time but like always, the pressure and the urgency quite positively intoxicate me. So this year will be great as usual, and will gather the best film stories and filmic expressions from directors, old and new; near and far. We will continue to share the best of African and independent cinema in a unifying and inspiring ambience, our heartfelt gift of education, entertainment and wonder to Lagos residents and the curious minds coming in to Lagos for our festival.

What can attendees, especially first-timers, look forward to experiencing this year?
The signature convivial and vibrant atmosphere and exclusive access to the best contemporary work from the continent, but this year for sure they can expect to see the brand new film, The Lost Okoroshi, by one of our festival favourites, Abba Makama. It will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and we are so excited and proud to welcome the film after that to its Nigeria debut at Lights Camera Africa Film Festival 2019.

Putting together a festival of this magnitude cannot be without its challenges. Tell us some issues you have faced and how you solved them?
The continued problem of scarce funds for the arts persists but this is a global phenomenon. I tackle this problem by being resourceful, very stubborn, nurturing relationships, leveraging those relationships and simply not accepting ‘No’ for an answer.

What would you say the importance of this festival has been on Nollywood and the Nigerian film culture in general?
We provide a platform for the celebration of film as an art form. Our festival celebrates the makers and in many ways focuses on amplifying the attention to the filmmakers and celebrating their nobility. Our festival is often referred to as having a palpable alternative, feel-good, relaxed, authentic and proudly African vibe to it, so I am extremely proud to be associated with a festival that offers audiences extremely high quality cinematic experiences and that also raises and diversifies the standard.

As a major player in the country’s art scene, how well are our arts received internationally?
We have a strong unforgettable aesthetic, which stems from a pungent fusion of our unique experiences, histories, reactions, philosophies, identities and peculiarities as Nigerians and our artists are expressing this ‘fire’ in a formidable way, with the help of a bouquet of collectors, gallerists and curators – like me – who are amplifying this force and the world is hearing. Now the trick is getting them to listen but this task begins within and my personal passion, over and beyond getting the rest of the world to see, hear, feel and listen to the Nigerian artist, is to get the Nigerian elite, aspirers and curious to see, hear, feel and listen to the Nigerian artist. We are enough and international validation should be only the cherry on an already creamy, fluffy and rich cake.

Would you say Nigerians appreciate art, seeing as a lot of people view it as a waste of money?
Nigerians definitely appreciate art. Whilst a majority arguably might not appreciate it and might consider it elitist and frivolous, I can also confidently say that my best clients and commercial interactions are with Nigerian collectors and lovers of art. All Nigerians come from a very strong visual and creative cultural heritage, and whether or not this essence is apparent to them, it is one that I personally spend time trying to cultivate and inspire in those with the curiosity and openness whether or not they are elites or not. Art is the furthest thing from a waste of money. It is a real source of joy, inspiration and beauty. It is a magical door opener. It is a teacher and an elevator of the mind and of possibilities. It is also a very real asset (recognized by several economic and municipal blocks around the world) and an assuring store of financial value. The mis-education and misconceptions around art can be easily countered during a nice afternoon sitting over coffee with me at my salon and studio. I have challenged a number of people to this and
I am proud to say that I have converted my fair share of people into budding collectors, readers and art enthusiasts.

There are a lot of talented, creative women that lack support to pursue their passion, how are you helping these women?
Woman Rising is a platform I created in 2011 specifically to create a meeting point between creative women and their enablers that in our unique case are also selected women. The platform has inspired productive partnerships, created jobs and buttressed networks and friendships. It is a wonderful platform to encourage creative women. Wherever I can, I offer my support to passionate and creative people who could do with a break, sometimes they are women and sometimes they are not. I believe ultimately in self-determination and this means that I do not subscribe to sob stories along gender lines. Excellence and the pursuit of it is something that all of us have access to and we must all try our hardest and do our best at all times, and I believe that this spirit yields results.

You run several businesses and generally have your hands in many pies, how are you able to make everything work?
All my projects and businesses are totally complementary and all feed and intertwine with each other. I refer to myself as a multi-arts curator and at the heart of this is the fact that I work within and across multiple disciplines, constantly connecting them and creating new possibilities from those interactions. In my world and in my practice, everything is everything. Art. Music. Thought. Word. Wine. Food. Design. Texture. Fashion. Film, ideas and so on.

What would you say to emerging artistes, especially women?
I would say to emerging artists, women and men alike, “Art is a powerful and redemptive force, and the responsibilities on the shoulders of artists are significant. The gains are also significant but so can the challenges. Be very clear about why you are an artist and be clearer about the story that you want to tell. Once you have done so, get a loudspeaker and shout that story and never stop until you die.”

If you get the opportunity to influence change for Nigerian women, what would you do?
I would change their minds; I would make them focus more on the amazing gifts they have. I would make them focus more on becoming excellent and indispensable all the while maintaining great disposition and bright red or pink lipstick (if they want). I would make them believe more in themselves. I would make them create their own tables instead of exasperating themselves trying to get on another’s table. I would make them believe that they are enough.

What does your typical day look like?
I wake up, meditate before driving to my walking path while listening to gospel and classical music. I walk then go to the gym to stretch. I go to the Wheatbaker for an Americano before I head to my studio to begin my day, which can run very, very long most of the time. I start my day a little slow and fill the morning with as many nurturing things as I can to give me the energy and refreshment I need to last a whole day. My evenings usually end with dinners and/or drinks with clients, friends, family. The dinners are occasionally cooked by me, I love to cook and to host and I do so as often as I can.

What does your personal style consists of?
I am a comfortable, classic dresser. I abhor trends and I always resist them. I dress a bit utilitarian, sometimes a bit romantic. I love black and I love Issey Miyake. I wear a lot of Miyake; it became my uniform after my own design brand was discontinued. I love and invest in pieces by Vivienne Westwood, Preen, NU, Odio Mimonet, Zebra Living (my brand from back in the day), and I just acquired some Turfah pieces, which I love. I love and swear by ZARA too (cheap and cheerful is the way too). I believe in uniforms, I don’t enjoy being dictated to by my clothes and I travel and move around a lot, so the clothes can’t be too fussy. Coco Chanel reminded us that the woman wears the clothes and not the other way round, so I have a pretty classic, mute and detail orientated fashion palette. I also love boubous even though my mother hates me wearing them.

What do you think the Nigerian art scene would look like in say, 10 years time from now?
Lagos will be a major global art city. We have the financial wealth, we have the eyes for beauty and the heritage, and we have some of the most amazing artists in the world, we just need to connect these dots and you will see the magic, the boom and the glory. I am doing my part in this connecting call to action.

What last words do you want to leave with women that have been inspired by you?
Too many women have inspired me, just too many. But I will end this delightful interview on two notes, one piece of advice I was given which I will now pass on and a quote which grounds me. A dear friend and big sister once told to me to begin to expect and anticipate that good things will come. I think this is a very powerful perspective that women (and men) can imbibe to liberate themselves. Work hard and expect good outcomes. Be positive and attract what you have toiled for and deserve. Expect good things to happen to you and they would.

The quote by Rupi Kaur says, “I have what I have and I am happy. I’ve lost what I’ve lost and I am still happy.” At 40, I also want to share a personal affirmation to all as I do daily to myself with the help of God and the blessed universe: strive to be happy. Life is not short; it is actually long, as Seneca points out. I have come to the conclusion that our perception of life’s length all depends on how we use it so we better use it well.


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Ugoma Adegoke
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