Interview

In Conversation: Abiola Oke With David Oyelowo

Award winning actor David Oyelowo dialogues with OkayAfrica CEO Abiola Oke.

This is part 1 of a three part discussion. Read part 2 here. Read part 3 here.


David Oyelowo is currently one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading men, and an “Officer of the Order of the British Empire" whose background in theater gives his acting a depth that outpaces all but a few of his contemporaries. We loved him last year as Phiona Mutesi's big-hearted chess coach in Queen of Katwe and for his career-defining role in Ava Duvernay's 2014 film Selma for which he won a Golden Globe and an NAACP Image Award.

In this dialogue, he connects with our CEO and Publisher Abiola Oke, speaking candidly about film, family and being a proud Nigerian. Part 1, this week, is focussed on his scholarship with GEANCO for girls affected by conflict in northern Nigeria. We caught up with the actor soon after his mother's passing and it's a sign of how seriously the actor takes his work that he answered our call at all.

David Oyelowo: Hi, is that Abiola?

OkayAfrica: Yes it is. Is this Mr. Oyelowo?

I know I was meant to get on the phone with you guys earlier today. We've had a bereavement in the family, so it's been a bit of a challenging time, but I'm glad I could finally get on the phone with you guys.

Thank you, and sorry about that. I can only image what that's like. How old was she? Was it a slow pass or was it sudden?

It wasn't sudden, in all honesty, she was in her late 60's—which is, obviously not old by any means—but she had been ill for about three years. So it was a slow process, unfortunately, but that's also what enabled us to sort of be more relieved than purely crestfallen about it because you know, her pain is now over.

Yeah. It's another testament to how short and fragile life is and we all really need to take it easy and just focus on the things that matter, you know?

Yes, 100 percent. It definitely has that effect of really helping you boil down what's actually important in life. So yeah. I'm glad that despite all of that we're able to get on the phone.

Absolutely. And you know, speaking of what's important, it was actually pretty interesting to hear that you were involved with a scholarship with GEANCO. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Well, as a very proud Nigerian, I don't think it's permissible to be afforded a degree of notoriety and not use that for the good of our country. The world gravitated toward the Bring Back Our Girls movement as those events unfolded a few years ago, but inevitably people's attention gets pulled elsewhere and that doesn't mean that the issues and the byproducts of the issue aren't still with us.

So for me it was born out of a desire to not just talk about it, because as an actor, people know I'm from Nigeria so they want to talk about it. I could go on press calls and talk about it or I could actually try and do something. Even if it's ultimately a drop in the ocean, it's still a drop and so that's partly what gave birth to me partnering with GEANCO on this. I mean, they've already been doing extraordinary work in Nigeria with their pop-up clinics and their desire to build this amazing hospital and the work they've also been doing with Chiwetel Ejiofor for the school that Chiwetel is supporting in Enugu.

David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor receive the GEANCO Foundation's 2016 Global Promise Award for their commitment to saving and transforming lives in Nigeria. Photo: Chris Schmitt

So you know, it was that issue that really burned in my heart. What happened when the media turned its attention away from these girls who have been indisputably affected by Boko Haram, by a concerted effort to deny them not only of their education, but their families, their dignity, their security through the violence they've encountered. So those were all factors in deciding to give birth to this scholarship.

And so, what's the criteria in order to earn the scholarship? And it's primarily focused on Nigerian girls, if I'm not mistaken, correct?

It's primarily focused on girls who have been—for now, anyway—directly affected by Boko Haram. And so what we do is we go into areas that have been affected by this crisis—mostly the Maiduguri area or Chibok itself—and we try to find the most vulnerable.

We look for those girls who would very discernibly have their lives changed for the better by this scholarship—the ones who show a desire to be educated. Basically, it's to take back some ground in terms of this really insidious desire to deny girls education, and so we want to do a lot more. This first round of girls is only three girls and next year we want to do more, and we'd want to be able to do a lot more than even that. So yes, that's the criteria so far.

Inaugural class of David Oyelowo Leadership Scholars Photo courtesy of GEANCO

That's amazing. I know, obviously, with Nigerians, charitable giving is in our DNA when we work as a family unit, but there is still a ways to go for us to make charity part the national discourse. What do you think about how to influence Nigerians?

Well, you know, I've been so inspired by what Oprah Winfrey has managed to achieve with her leadership academy in South Africa. And that leadership academy was very much born out of her relationship with Nelson Mandela while he was still alive.

She saw a need and she met that need. And I went to that academy and it is just the most extraordinary incubation for excellence, and it is very clear to me that a lot of the young women who are going to graduate from that school are not only going to be influencers within South Africa but the entire African continent and beyond.

They are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. And for the better. And so Nigeria is also one of the giants of Africa, and I am very proud of the fact that we are not shy about excellence and we are not shy about sharing our excellence with the world. So in my view, I think if you're a proud Nigerian and you are aware of the fact of just how influential Nigeria is around the world, then of course you want to contribute to Nigeria's foundation because the more our reputation generally grows, the better it is going to be for us at home. Yes, it's about charitable giving, but it's also an expression of our pride in the country we're from.

It's true. And as we say, Naija no dey carry last. We definitely won't be carriying last in this department as well.

Right. (laughs)

Read part 2 here. Read part 3 here

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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