I don’t see things as who is the most or best at anything….Oroma Elewa

Posted: February 22, 2012 in arts/culture

Nigerian-born Oroma Elewa is the Editor-in-Chief of United States-based Pop’Africana-the fashion spot magazine, bi-annual fashion and art publication founded and visually directed by Elewa, which celebrates Africa using bright pop art colours and high-end aesthetics and continues its direction to stand out from the masses of generic fashion magazines.

Pop’Africana prides itself on delivering a rejuvenated image of Africa that is graphically creative. Featuring beautiful visuals and well-resourced content, the magazine is a refreshing substitute by focusing on the celebration of certain ideals and playing on art influences. In this interview, Elewa talks about what drove her fashion and publishing, Nigerian authors who inspire her, why she left Nigeria, and other subjects like writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Excerpts:


Why did you think it was important to create a magazine focused on Africa in addition to the multitude of fashion/art magazines out there?


Yes, there is a plethora of fashion/art magazines out there, but I don’t think there is a multitude of non-mainstream, art-driven, inspiring magazines about Africans out there. And if there is, I don’t know of them. But whether or not these publications exist, there can always be more. Pop’Africana is different in many regards. It’s younger; it’s braver; and it’s honest. The crux of Pop’Africana is from a direct place that speaks to Africans in a sincere language. In conveying all this, I wanted to produce a magazine with an African aesthetic that can sit comfortably next to my favourite fashion/art/culture magazines, such as A Magazine Curated By, Purple, Dazed & Confused, and Self Service – competing strongly in content and design.


Do you think this will limit you in any way in terms of the future?


If content determines readership—which I think it should—then no I don’t think so. Pop’Africana has a global focus and a global audience. It’s simply about a particular aesthetic and style, but the reach is by no means stunted. There are a lot of magazines out there that occupy a niche that is solely western or with a stamped-on aesthetic, but this didn’t stop me from buying, loving or wanting to be a part of it regardless of who created or whom it was created for. Besides the world is so intertwined that, one way or another, the extent to which Pop’Africana reaches individuals can only grow to be limitless.


What is the aim of the magazine?


When I created Pop’Africana, I remember telling my boyfriend that if only ten Africans that were as fearless or as weird or as individualistic as I am understood and loved the magazine then my goal is accomplished. The main aim to inspire and celebrate individualism.


How did you source your team to produce the magazine?


In all honesty, people find me really—and, of course, I also find people. The internet and the growth of social network portals have made this team building process pretty easy. Also I’ve also been fortunate to have known some people prior to launching Pop’Africana that I presently work with. Pop’Africana currently has a team, a group of African creatives in New York, Paris, London and Dar es Salaam.


What is your background? Say, writing, styling, and design?


I went to school for design (fashion), but I’ve returned to the classroom on a slightly different tangent. I’ve worked for a few design houses on both the retail and design ends. Naturally, I picked up photography along the way because I wanted to be able to produce my ideas from conception to actual/final product without depending on anyone. Being a visual thinker, a marriage with photography was inevitable. I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember; I always keep a sketchbook handy in times when the rush to doodle overwhelms me. Random, but I’m really into facial features. My whole life literally revolves around art so Pop’Africana didn’t just happen. It brings everything I love to do and do well together.


Who inspires you?


Inspiration rarely remains firm for me. Many are fleeting visuals that are both trivial yet substantive (that is the 9 year old daughter of my Facebook friend inspired a whole editorial). I love Kanye West because he’s an innovator and Bi Kidude for timeless drive and her childlike spirit. Ben Okri carries with him age-old secrets about Nigeria’s art of god worship and I love that. Ken Saro-Wiwa should have written more books in Pidgin English. Viviane Sassen is quite amazing. I want to shoot Amber Rose.


What are your future plans?


For the magazine: to print and make Pop’Africana local, everywhere. For myself, I plan to work as an agency represented creative director and photographer.


Why did you leave Nigeria?


Moving to America for my family and I was somewhat of an economic exile. We left Nigeria for the United States to pursue a better quality of life offered through academic opportunities and work.


What do you feel is missing in America’s understanding of African culture?


The diversity in our culture and traditions. A lot of people don’t get it and I don’t expect them to – unless you are African and have lived life as an African or have operated with that salient identity, it’s quite hard to fully understand or wrap your head around the psyche, or know how to fully present who we are as individuals to the world.


What is your main inspiration, in other words what drives you to create?


My work with Pop’Africana is inspired by a vision I have for Africa and Africans. A vision of an Africa that shelters and respects individualism and for Africans, that the world’s opinion of us is redirected.”


Pop’Africana your magazine, what made you think you could publish a magazine on your own? Did you have publishing experience?


Sorry to disappoint, I don’t have any publishing experience, but you have to admit, the audacity is what makes it interesting. Besides, publishing is changing, there’s room for experimentalism. Independent publishing, from blogs to e-zines, has given a lot of individuals a voice to discuss issues or express themselves. I simply seized advantage of the zeitgeist. To answer your question about why I thought I could publish Pop’Africana on my own, the need to document the African experience and redirect the opinion of the African superseded the need to have everything in place first. I do not claim to be the most professional anything but what I did was that I take a shot at what I truly believed and what I truly believed was lacking for a global African community. My hope is that people will see this before any of my shortcoming.


What is your favourite thing about New York?


Access. None of this would be possible if I didn’t live in New York City. So to be in a place that has sheltered and facilitated my ideas as a creative and connected me to likeminded people is why I’m grateful to New York.


What intrigues you about Europe?


I’ve actually never been to Europe. I think I would like to wait until I visit before I talk about my intrigue. I have experienced Europe vicariously through books and films, but there has to be more to it than just scenes from films.


If you no longer publish your magazine, what would you consider doing and why?


I would still want to be heavily involved in the arts. Whether it’s working for another publication or independently as an art/creative director, curating fashion presentations or striking out independently as a fashion portrait photographer, my foot will always be in the arts.


Are you political and if so, what gets you the most passionate to discuss, and if not politically, why not?


I wouldn’t consider myself political, but I have an opinion.


Women in the world, who is most impressive, for any reason?


I don’t see things as who is the most or best at anything. I am impressed by a lot of amazing women, including my grandmother, Brenda Fassie, Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Anna Wintour, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I draw inspiration from these and many other very gifted, strong women.


If you could change anything, what would it be?


There are just too many things that warrant change, both at a personal and worldly level. Do I answer it selfishly or in a sophisticated, humanitarian sense? I’m torn, so I’ll simply pass.


Courtesy: Dazed Digital


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