Who is Okocha Obasi?

Head & shoulders portrait of Okocha Obasi. He is stood against a white wall in bright sunlight, wearing some oversized and chunky orange sunglasses.

Ahead of the launch of our new zine, Centre, we caught up with RACEZINE founder, recent graduate and our latest collaborator, Okocha Obasi (he/him).

Okocha is a graphic designer and recent graduate from Leeds Arts University. In the past three years, he has created an array of projects, characterised by bold designs and themes that are socially engaged and conscious. Obasi is the creator of the RACEZINE whose aim is to platform creatives of colour, and Okocha has produced many projects including a non-profit zine, performance events and colourful and infamous club night TONGUE N TEETH. (All whilst completing his Bachelors degree – crazy right!?)

Q: So, Kocha, what can you tell us about your previous projects?

A photograph of a RACEZINE clubnight.
A party-goer at TONGUE N TEETH, image courtesy of the artist, Okocha Obasi.

Okocha: I do a range of different projects ranging from styling, art direction to speculative focused critical design. I use whatever medium is needed to prove or communicate an idea. I like to blur the lines between different practices in order to create visually cathartic pieces of work, hence why I see myself more as artist, than ‘graphic designer’. Whether it’s a poster, club night, event, motion graphic or textile design, all my projects have purpose and direction for impact. For example, my brand RACEZINE COLLECTIVE was made out of the pain of being the Othered my entire life. I created a zine publication known as RACEZINE to share the voices of creatives of colours who tend to go unnoticed in the white dominated Northern art-spaces. Other projects include TONGUE N TEETH, a club night which welcomes those othered, in a temporary carnival-like space, offering moments of escape.

Q: When did you get into zines, and what is it you like about them?

Okocha: I have always been into zines, and since I was young have enjoyed looking through independent bookstores or zine libraries up and down the country. I like how they can take any form, style and narrative, allowing less-heard voices to become physically achieved and known. There’s something very timeless about how zines represent certain eras, highlighting different the social issues of different periods, provide commentary and can be a form of liberation or rebellion. I like the power of self-publishing things, which bigger establishments might view as too
‘risky’. Zines themselves are forms of protest against what is allowed or expected, which naturally makes them an expression of punk. And punk, has always been political and pushing the boat where’s it’s never been and that’s very exciting.

Q: What do you like about living in West Yorkshire/Leeds?

Okocha: What I love about Leeds is the definitely the club nights, as I have had many good (and messy) nights out!  I also love that many people are very down to earth and genuine, it feels like you can breathe more so than London at times. There’s definitely been a surge in creative collectives which is always inspiring. I love the D.I.Y attitude that comes with these collectives, that often comes with being thoughtful about who and why they are creating spaces. On a personal level, I grew a lot in Leeds as well for a range of different reasons, which I will always thanks the city for. Overall as a creative it’s a good place to fail, learn and succeed, as it cheap and accessible for many different things. 

Q: What do you find challenging about living in Leeds?

Okocha: I think there are a lot of white dominated spaces, which can feel very suffocating as PoC. I think also the mass amount of students made me very anxious as some people views definitely did not align with my own. I wish there were more regular art shows which are not inherently fine art and white. I think it’s great a lot of different art spaces are created by DIY collectives, but I wish there were more radical exhibitions and shows, led by established art organisations & spaces.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with Centre? 

Okocha: I hope to represent all the voices meaningfully and create a loud, bold and visually cathartic zine publication. One which will be cherished by all those who get a copy. I definitely want it to be completely different to all my past work in regards to style….just expect every page to be visual ecstasy….that’s all I’m going to give away for now 😉 

Q: Can you share with us someone that inspires you?

Okocha: My mother’s strength runs through my blood. Being completely resilient to any downfall what comes her way has always made me realise even in the darkest times we can rise. My mum taught me how to survive independently and warned me about every bad wolf in the world from a young age. I think that’s why I see the world the way it is and with that, find strength in using light to reveal the dark.

Q: I think it’s only fair to finish by asking you the same question we’re asking of all the artists who submit a response to Centre. Can you tell us, in 50 words or less, what matters most to you? 

Okocha: Being unapologetic. I am young but feel like I’ve lived a long life due to a range of experiences, good and bad that have shaped who I am today. I have grown, broken myself and grown again, which has taught me now, more than ever, to be completely unapologetic in everything I do.

a hand holding a printed copy of RACEZINE
RACEZINE, 2019, image courtesy of the artist, Okocha Obasi

You can see more examples of Okocha’s work, and follow him on Instagram, here.

Title image credit: Okocha Obasi, photographed by @undinemarkus.

 

Women and The Word

On Saturday 27 January we curated and produced a special event in Sheffield focused around the film, The Revival: Women and The Word, directed by Sekiya Dorsett. We originally saw this documentary at SQIFF in 2016 and fell for its warmth, humour, honesty, and unique perspective on an often overlooked part of the LGBTQIA community. The film follows a group of Black lesbian poets on a salon style tour of the US organised by creative force and entrepreneur Yaani Supreme fka Jade Foster.

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Jonquille Rice aka Solsis and Bea Steadwell. Credit: The Revival: Women and the Word

Documentaries like this allow you to imagine a different world, one where Black, queer womanhood is centered, celebrated and given space to breathe. We felt it was important to not only show the film, but make sure the Black British community was celebrated, while giving our audience a taste of the talent that exists within the UK, by showcasing poets of colour on this side of the Atlantic.  To do this we worked closely with Manchester’s Rainbow Noir and Sheffield’s Our Mel to programme artists, and help Andro and Eve reach new audiences. We cannot praise Rainbow Noir’s organisers enough for their generosity and support of our aims for this event. It was also awesome to work with another grassroots organisation in Sheffield, through Our Mel, and realise we have many of the same ambitions of creating special events where our communities feel free to express themselves.

Annalisa of Our Mel hosting the event

As massive lovers of zines and indie publishing we also curated a stall selling the words of women of colour.

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Classic zine stall

The event sold out a week in advance, and on the night over 70 people from across the UK turned out to our specially chosen, (and secret) Sheffield venue to enjoy the evening. As ever, we were thrilled that so many people had made the journey out on a cold night to attend, and we want to say thank you for those who supported our work in this way.

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Some of our wonderful audience!

Thanks also to all the people who have been contributing to our accessible ticket fund. This was the first event where we were able to offer discounted ticket prices for those on low incomes, and we can say it certainly encouraged some new faces to attend.

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DYLEMA (Do You. Let Every Man Adapt).

The poets, Ella Otomewo, from Manchester and DYLEMA from East London, performed their captivating poems after the film, making quite an impression on our audience and us. It was so rewarding to listen to the comments from those that had gathered together for this event, and realise the hard work had paid off.

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Ella Otomewo performs her poetry

We’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but special thanks should go to Rainbow Noir, Our Mel, LAS Sheffield, QTIPOC Notts, Enjoy Your Homes Press, our fabulous volunteers, and last but no means least, photographer Ndrika Anyika, whose images you see in this post.

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If you missed this event, hopefully we’ll see you at The Kingdom Come #3 on March 10th! Tickets are on sale now. 

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_V3A4831Some of our awesome audience members! _V3A4528_V3A4524_V3A4511_V3A4526_V3A4553_V3A4534

 

 

 

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