Ugoma Adegoke and her husband are much traveled individuals, whose establishment, The Life House, for over two years, literally rocked the city of Lagos in the volume and quality of artistic events it hosted. While The Life House has wound up at its first home on 33 Sinari Daranijo Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, its activities still continue, with the first in collaboration with Goethe Institut. In this online conversation with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Ugoma, who is also a fashion designer and CEO of Zebra Boutique, states how the house became an extended expression of their own lifestyles, the support they had from friends, the entire Lagos art community and how it impacted on the vibrant Lagos artistic scene. She makes a serious case for support for the arts as a means of properly interrogating the nation’s democracy and nationhood. Excerpts:
Just within two years, The Life House transformed itself into a beehive of artistic feast. How did you manage it?
We did it with a lot of dedication, hard work, dear friends and a very supportive and eager community of artists and patrons. We never imagined that the Lagos community would embrace The Life House so quickly with such passion, but that just goes to show you the need for the promotion of urban art and culture in Lagos. This is a city of incredibly talented people and we are very happy to be a venue, fixed or mobile, that continues to support that talent.
How did the idea come to you in the first place? What inspired you to venture into arts promotion? What is in your background that led into art promotion?
The Life House is essentially how my husband (and my partner and co-founder of The Life House) and I have always lived. Yoga, art, music, travel, healthy foods, community, light and lightness and fashion are our everyday existence. The Life House was a very easy and simple extension of our lives and love to include our community. We knew how we wanted to continue living (having both lived for extensive periods overseas) and decided to experiment with recreating that life in Lagos. It worked and we haven’t looked back. We have always had access to serene, inspiring and functional spaces and we saw no reason to deprive ourselves of same because we relocated to Lagos. So, we created our own for ourselves and for our community.
Promoting art is second nature to me. I am a lover of life, and the beautiful things within it. I drink it all in and as a bonafide alariwo, I always make it a point to announce and shout from the rooftops about the wonderful, fabulous things I see and wish to share with the world starting with my friends, family and anyone who cares to listen. Most people who do listen, often are thankful for the amazing discoveries and experiences we lead them to. It is the best feeling in the whole world.
I am not sure what exactly led to art promotion. I have two economics degrees (both with honours), a professional finance and business work history so I could say nothing in my ‘formal background’ led to this… But I said earlier, this is not work; it is my life, our life and my background includes my education as well as a rich and wild experience of people, places, cultures and food!!! I thank encouraging parents, wonderful Lagos and the timing of my move back to work and live in Nigeria and meeting my dear husband – all these factors evolved my search for life and its essence and morphed it into this beautiful work in art promotion (as you call it) – it is a welcome work, a labour of love: love for nation, community and life.
And, how did you pull off such remarkable programmes all year round?
A strong belief in what my husband loves to buttress, an Open Source style. A combination of ambition, dedicated event planning and programming contributions from friends, and the shared vision of performers, authors, speakers, dancers, artists and countless others to promote the arts and make them accessible to Lagosians. We certainly can’t thank enough all those from the Reel Life Film Club, DaYoga Studio, Zebra Boutique, Abule Cafe and our special friends who pitch in to plan our readings, guest speakers and themed months.
What is your assessment of Nigeria's (nay Lagos) artistic scene? What can be done to improve on it?
I don’t think there is any doubt that the Lagos art scene is rife. It’s capturing it and honing it that needs attention. We like to think of ourselves as an avenue for that refinement. One of our dear members, Chuma Nwokolo, was flattering enough to suggest that in just two short years The Life House had become an institution for artistic development. The momentum, support, packed audiences and demand for performance that we continue to receive is testament to the desire and need for more artistic outlets in Lagos and Nigeria in general.
Apart from featuring/showcasing artists of all shades, do you have plans to be involved in artistic production of any category in the near future?
Indeed I do! These plans will be revealed in due time as I am currently working on several exciting projects.
Which artistic genre (literature, visual arts, music, fashion) pulled the most audience and why?
Whilst all the genres attracted a fair amount of people — I would have to say that the largest audiences usually attended the live music shows. I believe it’s because there is nothing in this world as stimulating as live music! If one prefers a more cerebral approach one would say that, in the human psyche, music and emotions are inextricably mixed. At The Life House the room, literally, pulsates with the beats and the excitement of the audience and when you also consider that our shows are not necessarily mainstream music shows that are readily available but more hard to see artists, the shows are big draws. Music always rocks the house.
Now that you're moving to a new place, what future prospects do you envision?
In our short time, The Life House has become a home away from home for many of our extended Life House family — the place you go where everybody knows your name. I envision that this family will only get bigger. Our new site will encompass many more lifestyle activities for our clients — old, new and future ones!
How much patronage would you say Nigeria's art engenders? Is it patronage-friendly?
Some of Nigeria's museums were world-class institutions. This legacy of much of our art history has unfortunately been sidelined in recent years. But our art is highly patronised by those that are aware — locally and internationally. Nigerian art can cut across socio-economic, cultural and racial boundaries. It can bind and create an understanding between a myriad of people. This is one of the essential reasons why The Life House exists — to encourage people to enjoy the many pleasures of the artworld and understand that this should be a regular part of everyday life — as it was for our past generations.
What impediments are there, if any, to its patronage, especially from corporate Nigeria? What can be done to leverage it?
Enjoying and consuming the arts are viewed as a luxury in a country like Nigeria. People compare the cost of buying a book or seeing a play with the cost of essentials like buying a meal or a bus fare. So, I think the opportunity cost of enjoying the arts is a significant impediment.
In Nigeria, corporate organisations usually invest in initiatives they feel will impact their brand, appeal to their customers and build new customer and followings. I think for a lot of brands, the arts are simply not viewed as an effective vehicle for reaching the public. My view is that Nigerian brands can gain so much mileage from engaging with the arts in a way that embraces large sections of the public, for example through supporting arts education for both adults and children and even facilitating art exchange relationships between Nigeria and other countries.
How focused would you say Nigerian art producers are? Are they business savvy?
At the moment there appears to be a real focus in the production of art, especially in music and film. They appear to have a lot of business-focus, probably because they are the more ‘fast moving’ consumer goods in the arts sector. The visual arts and the performing arts are slightly more challenged. I should note, however, that making the arts more business savvy can be a bit of a ‘catch 22’ situation because if we are commercial in the costing, then attracting people can be difficult and if we are not commercial in the costing, we risk losing livelihoods for the producers of art.
From your experience in the past two years, what do you think can be done to make the art environment more vibrant so that both artists
and promoters like you can be better encouraged?
I think support for the arts is paramount. Support from the public as well as the government where possible. We need a focused and sincere commitment to funding the arts and creating concrete programmes that are well thought-through.
Remember for Tomorrow was a unique programme. What informed it, and would more of such programmes come afterwards?
Remember for Tomorrow was a month-long engagement of cultural, creative and educational activities relating to watershed points in modern history. It arose out of a concern to make our past experiences as a people relevant to our current realities. We felt that it was important to learn from our previous experiences, which may have an impact on how we respond to today’s challenges. It was our intention that Remember for Tomorrow would provide an opportunity for storytelling, education, artistic expression, social discourse and most importantly further documentation of these experiences. We will definitely produce more of these important documentation and education projects in the near future
And, more support for the arts…
A key theme for me is to keep pushing the need to support the arts as a means of cultural expression. Safeguarding our cultural expressions is a way of preserving ourselves and our way of life as a people. In my view, when we are able to do this, we are able to more sincerely interrogate our democracy and nationhood. This is the foundation for true progress and earnest social development…