Cultural Producer, Yewande YoYo Odunubi, talks about making a stand for queer black womxn and inspiring young creatives
WORDS BY OLIVIA KELLERMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KRYSTAL NEUVILL
What was originally planned to be a meet up at the South London Gallery in Camberwell, two weeks later became a post-lunch phone call from the comfort of our own houses. On a locked down Friday afternoon, I called Yewande to discuss her path as a creative and how the communities that she is part of have inspired her journey.
Born in Deptford, South East London, formerly the Friday Late Programme and Producer at the V&A, 29-year-old Yewande’s has recently moved over to the Wellcome Collection as a Live Programme Producer. After graduating from the University of Kent, studying English & American Literature and Creative writing, and spending a year abroad in Hong Kong, the cultural producer has spread her wings working in both the publishing and charity sectors. She has shown her passion for broadening access in the arts by helping organisations that focus on supporting young people, particularly those from marginalised groups and from low social-economic backgrounds get into the arts.
Outside of her roles at the V&A and Wellcome Collection, Yewande has spent the last 5 years taking on a variety of different roles within the creative and LGBTQIA+ community; working with collectives such as BBZ, Touching Bass and organisations like Black Girl Festival.
Before landing her job at the V&A, one of the most influential projects for Yewande remains Finding Soul. “In 2017 I crowdfunded and put on an exhibition and programme of events with friends, called Finding Soul: An exhibition about soul and community. It allowed me to work with my friends in a really tangible way and celebrate the community that surrounded us”. For her, it was, and is still, the highlight of her producing career to date. “On a personal level, it really allowed me to see myself differently, to connect with people and confront anxieties around thinking, can I be this person? Can I be this producer that I see myself wanting to be?”
One of the more recent projects that Yewande lent her hand to, was working with a group of amazing black woman at Black Girl Festival earlier this year. “Black Girl Festival created an academy which had an open call for in January supporting around 30 young black woman and non-binary producers.” Selected as one of the facilitators at the workshops they hosted, Yewande spoke about the logistics, the purpose and the intent behind holding an event. “I think it’s really key if you’re going to do community-focused events, you have to think what the intention is, why you are doing it.” These Black Girl Festival Academy was set up to inspire young black woman and show them how to create the events/projects they wanted to bring into fruition. Yewande shared her gratitude towards working this event and the people she got to meet alongside, “there are a bunch of other amazing facilitators in these workshops, supporting people with their journeys and what they want to create.”
“With BBZ, supporting queer women, trans and non-binary people of colour is important because everyone needs space,” Yewande said. “Your story can’t be told by other people who do not live your experience, you need to be the one or be with people who share your experiences.” The support that BBZ aims to offers to the community is important as Yewande states, “it can be really tiring to exist in a world that dismisses you or doesn’t take you into account.” Yewande illustrated what it has been like to watch this community grow, “It’s been so beautiful to see over the last few years lots of different parties and spaces emerge to where people from these different intersections can really engage with other people, their people. Who can share, gather together, celebrate and also communicate being themselves.”
Yewande’s jumped on board as part of BBZ 3 years ago, which was co-founded by her close friends Naeem Davis and Tia Simon-Campbell, “after BBZ being around for a year, that’s when I came on board as part of the collective.” She decided she wanted to engage more practically with the collectives work, rather than just supporting her friends on the side, “it was connected to my intersections; it felt like a way that I could help support and be in on some of the conversations.”
Her enthusiasm for collaborative work shows through her drive to interact with these collectives. “I think that’s one of the really nice things about collective work”, she explained, “being able to have a team that supports that overall energy and the ways that I can add to that kind of work.” At the time of this interview, Yewande felt 2020 was still going to be a big year, “for us (BBZ) now, it’s more about returning to this energy of the community.” Aiming to work hard as an individual but in harmony with the collective to continue to provide a space for the community.
The day before talking to Yewande I saw that she had deleted all of her Instagram posts, apart from one that was from 2016, quoting Ryan Hidinger “Anything long-lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.” When I asked Yewande about this she chuckled, “To be honest, the main reason was to start my Instagram again, I archived the posts because I still wanted the memories.” Keeping the mental health post as a daily reminder, Yewande then took the opportunity to express the importance of social media as a creative. “In this industry knowing how to use social media is really interesting and again those who do it well and unapologetically (within reason) I really do respect,” however for her personally, it seemed to be a love-hate relationship as she said, “I don’t always feel that comfortable with it, there’s a lot of negotiation with it, there’s a lot to do with how I can see myself in general and that’s maybe why I don’t post that much.” Connecting with people directly seemed more of Yewande’s thing when she added, “I use Instagram to research and message people. I try to be more direct with it rather than post stuff because that’s not really my bag at the moment.” She ended by saying, “hopefully I’ll be back on it soon ... eventually.”
I asked who Yewande is inspired by, “I know this might sound like a cop-out, but I honestly am inspired by a lot of the people around me, I feel like it takes a lot of courage and guts to put yourself out there and I really respect people who are trying to be authentically themselves.” As she had expressed through discussing all the work she has done, her answer didn’t come as a surprise nor was it a cop-out. “There are amazing people that are creating around London and all over the UK,” she expressed admiringly, “just being around those people and seeing the events and ideas come out, that to me is inspiring.”
After speaking of her biggest inspirations, I asked Yewande if she had any words of wisdom to inspire young creatives starting their own projects right now. She prefaced by saying, “This is really all in hindsight because when I was starting out it was a lot of trial and error,” she recalls, “even though I didn’t see the direction, there was always a direction in my heart. I just wasn’t aware of it.”
Yewande addresses creatives who are in this for the long game saying, “you have to have a vision and a mission statement,” detailing the importance of this by adding, “understand the sustainability of it all, when you’re meeting people, you need to connect with intent.” Outlining the best mindset to have, Yewande articulates, “come into things with a collaborative spirit,” knowing the effects that can come from working with a range of people across projects. “We don’t exist in this world by ourselves; a lot of the things that come to life is with the work and help of other people.” The key to this she shares is to “continuously engage with lots of different people to join you on your journey and you on theirs, I feel like that’s where a lot of the magic happens, through collaboration.”
Embracing that collaborative spirit is key to prospering, being confident and unapologetically you. Yewande has shown an inspiring example of how following those ideals and having that drive can lead to a successful career surrounded by a community that makes you feel safe, loved and inspired.