Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, 33, grew up in Nairobi before studying film and theater at Hampshire College, Massachusetts. Her father, Peter, is a politician who has spoken of being harassed and tortured for his beliefs. In 2014, Nyong’o won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. She currently lives in Brooklyn. Here, she talks fame, and how childhood readied her for it:
Being uncomfortable with sudden fame is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be trying and confusing. Being cast in 12 Years a Slave completely altered the architecture of my life. I had come straight out of school and everything seemed to change overnight. Suddenly there was all this recognition. It still surprises me when people know who I am.
If I look calm, it’s probably because I’m terrified. Human beings have three reactions to stress – fight, flight or freeze – and my default is to freeze. If that comes across as calmness, I’m lucky.
I have a lot to thank television for. As a child in Kenya, it presented me with a window to the world. I was exposed to different cultures through shows from England, Australia, Brazil, Mexico. TV taught me what it means to be human.
In my family, looking good is a sign of respect. You should take time to present yourself well for an occasion. I grew up with so much grooming that, after a while, I got sick of it and cut off all my hair.
My tempestuous nature has served me well. As an actor, I can play the storm as well as the eye of the storm. It is very damaging to have only one notion of beauty. My teenage years were plagued by the idea that light skin was better skin. There were adverts on TV about a woman trying to get a job and she only got it when she applied skin-lightening cream. I felt that I was not considered beautiful because of my complexion. My self-worth was deeply compromised in those years.
What you wear has to stand the test of time. You need clean lines and maybe a bit of humor, too.
My childhood prepared me for this life in more ways than I could have imagined. I witnessed my father navigating life as a public figure and also just being my dad. He was on the cover of the newspaper and everyone was talking about him in an abstract manner in my presence. Then I would go home to a very real man who was tired and needed a back rub. I grew up meeting world leaders and, as such, I have always known that incredible people are also very normal people.
Throw a seed over your shoulder and it will grow. At least, in East Africa it will. I miss eating the seeds from the baobab trees.
The most important thing to instil in a child is curiosity. Going to college was never a question. I was born expected to achieve. But I found school to be a very narrow experience, having to cram in all this theoretical and literary information. I learn through story and experience. If it weren’t for my parents, who were very liberal, I think I would have given up on myself.
Stand up for what you believe in. I’ve witnessed my father stand in the line of fire for his causes. He has sacrificed a lot for his beliefs and my family has had to stand by him and support his calling.
Don’t get me started on self-righteousness. The idea that how you see the world is the only way the world can be is so annoying. Eat deep-fried food. In Kenya, we deep-fry anything. There’s a snack called chevdo, which is a mix of deep-fried potatoes, peas, raisins and cashews. There’s a fruit that’s really good for you – higher in calcium than milk – but we fry it up with red spice before we eat it. It’s heavenly.
The Art Of Survival: The Art Of Adire Gave This Textile Artist Global Fame, She Now Educates Generations Of Women In Nigeria
Textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaye worked as a construction laborer and carried water and firewood to survive. The art of adire gave her global fame and she is now educating generations of women in Nigeria.
There was no way Nike Davies-Okundaye could look the other way. For after all, she too had been a victim in her early teens.
Too many women were being pushed down the traditional path of marriage and child-rearing in her country.
Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye resolved to fight this practice four decades ago.
“By the age of 13, they wanted to marry me off because my father had no money. I had to run away from home and join a traveling theater. I said I didn’t want to marry and wanted to pursue art,” recalls the internationally-renowned Lagos-based artist.
Not wanting to become one of six wives to a minister, Davies-Okundaye found her escape through adire, the name given to the Yoruba craft of tie-and-dye where indigo-dyed cloth is made using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Growing up in a predominantly art and craft household, Davies-Okundaye is a fifth-generation artist who decided to take the craft seriously due to poverty.
“I had no money to go to school and the first education parents give you is to teach you what they do. So, when I finished primary six and I had no support to go to secondary school, I said to myself, ‘let me master art so I can teach other women to also use their hand to make a living through their own artwork’.”
Davies-Okundaye was forced to work in the male-dominated construction sector, carrying concrete in pans to builders in order to save one shilling, just enough to buy a yard of fabric to create what she called wall-hanging art.
Her goal was to use the traditional wax-resist methods to design patterned fabric in a dazzling array of tints and hues. The adire design is the result of hand-painted work carried out mostly by women and through that, Davies-Okundaye saw a way to help women to become economically empowered. After all, her first break in life came as a result of that.
“There was no other job I was doing apart from adire. I was lucky the American government came to Nigeria to recruit an African who will teach African Americans how to make traditional textiles or crafts in the state. That is how I was lucky and got picked.”
Davies-Okundaye was the only woman in a class of 10 men who were flown to Maine in northeastern United States in 1974. That is where her whole outlook on life changed.
“Before I went to America, I used to carry three drums of water every day and carry firewood to be able to survive. It was like a breakthrough in my life when I reached America. I said ‘is this heaven?’ I was the only woman in the class and all the men were learning women’s looms and I kept telling them ‘this is for women’ and they said ‘yes, in America, what a man can do, a woman can also do’.”
This was in stark contrast to what she knew to be true in Nigeria at the time.
“If your husband is an artist, you are not allowed to do art. In the 1960s, if your husband has a PhD, you are not allowed to also have a PhD. You had to give room for your husband to be your boss.”
She decided to beat those age-old stereotypes.
As one of 15 wives to her then-husband at the time, Davies-Okundaye, with her newfound knowledge gained in America, started a revolution at home. She encouraged the other wives to create their own art business using adire.
“I said ‘if you learn this, you can earn a living by yourself and get your power because your money is your power’ and that is how they also started learning it. I didn’t stop sharing the knowledge there. I gathered girls on the streets who were selling kola nuts and peanuts and started training them. I said ‘if this textile can take me to America, let me teach other people’,” says Davies-Okundaye.
And that has been her calling ever since. Davies-Okundaye is the founder and director of four art centers, which offer free training to 150 young artists in Nigeria in visual, musical and performing arts.
One of the centers is the largest art gallery in West Africa comprising over 7,000 art works.
“They used to get the police to arrest me because they said I was trying to teach feminism in Nigeria because I went to America. They said I was going to corrupt our Nigerian women but I believe God sent me to liberate a lot of women who have the passion for what makes them happy but are afraid to do it because of what people will say. I say do what makes you happy always!”
Why This Photographer Looked Up During The Lockdown
Steven Benjamin chose to focus on the bird life in his garden in Cape Town to escape the confines of the lockdown.
During South Africa’s five-week shutdown (the country is still on Level 4 restrictions), Cape Town-born underwater photographer Steven Benjamin more used to sharks, whales and dolphins, used the period to look up instead – and indulge in bird-watching, another passion of his.
“Ever since the age of five or six, I have been interested in birds. I was dyslexic as a young child and I still have my first bird book where I ‘ticked’ backwards. I was trying to identify the birds that flew into my pre-school class and begged my mom to let me mark off what I’d seen, so birding has always been a passion,” says Benjamin, who also runs a seal-snorkeling business.
He has spent his life capturing South Africa’s marine world, and now, Benjamin had to redirect his focus to his Kalk Bay garden during the lockdown to photograph Cape Town’s resident birdlife.
He says photographing these feathered beauties is a way to bring joy during these uncertain times.
“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph because they are shy and extremely fast. Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”
Soon after the lockdown started, Benjamin put white sugar in his bird feeder every morning and enjoyed the sight of local birds and documented them. He posted the images on Instagram and that garnered some online attention.
“The lockdown has made me relax and take the time to do things I would never have gotten around to doing. I settled on this project, which I work on every day. I’m always adding something new to the scene and there are always new birds and interactions happening. It’s made the days fly by,” he says.
During the lockdown, there was only one male Cape Sugar Bird that landed in his garden. This spectacular bird is unique to South Africa and mostly only found in the Western Cape. All of this will go into an exhibition Benjamin is working towards in Cape Town.
‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’
A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.
Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).
In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.
Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”
How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?
“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”
A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.
“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.
Download issues of Forbes Africa
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa June/July 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa April 2020 - 30 Under 30 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa March 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa February 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa December 2019/ January 2020 R50.00
Subscribe to Forbes Africa
#BlackOutTuesday Brings Music Industry To A Pause, But Some Artists Warn Against Obscuring Black Lives Matter Posts
Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Revolt Against Zuckerberg’s Inaction On Trump’s ‘Shooting’ Post
How To Gather With Friends And Family At Weddings And Events
[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa
What America Can Learn From Italy’s Race For Antibody Testing | Forbes
- Health15 hours ago
[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa
- Billionaires1 week ago
The World’s 25 Richest Billionaires Have Gained Nearly $255 Billion In Just Two Months
- Current Affairs3 weeks ago
WITHOUT UNIVERSAL HEALTH COVERAGE WE ARE SITTING DUCKS WHEN THE NEXT PANDEMIC STRIKES
- Entrepreneurs4 weeks ago
Nerves Of Steel: This Ambitious Property Tycoon Is On A Mission To Transform Accra’s Skyline
- Entrepreneurs4 weeks ago
How This African Animator Is Handling The Virus
- Current Affairs3 weeks ago
VE DAY MARKS THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR-BUT THE WORLD IS STILL AT WAR
- Brand Voice3 weeks ago
Focus on Mauritius: Promoting Sustainability Through Perseverance And Policy
- Current Affairs4 weeks ago
The Number Of Mothers Reporting Food Insecurity Has Jumped More Than 200% Since Start Of Pandemic