Emmanuel Nwogbo

We’re headed to the Great White North this week to meet someone that I learned about while doing a deep dive on Nigerian artists. Emmanuel Nwogbo is a visual artist based out of Montréal, and to me, his work reminds me so much of the creativity and fun that design can create.

We chatted right around his first anniversary of moving to Canada, and we discussed his day job as a graphic designer, and how his passion for the arts inspired him to leave Lagos. We also talked about his 365 James Bond Characters project — a series of designs and compositions paying homage to characters in the 007 Universe. Emmanuel’s quiet confidence is one of his biggest strengths, so don’t be surprised if you see his work in a gallery near you one day!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My name is Emmanuel Nwogbo. I am from Nigeria. I am a graphic designer, so I work full-time as a graphic designer. I also do freelance graphic design, and I also do some visual arts. At the moment, I do the visual arts on the side.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So how has 2021 been for you? Did you learn anything new about yourself? How has the year been?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, its probably one of my best years so far. So I moved to Montréal at the end of 2019, and then 2020 happened, so 2020 was a very strange year. So 2021 was like my first full year in Montréal. Honestly, it went really well. It went really well, I pretty much hit all my goals, so that was a very exciting. It was also my first summer in Montréal, which everyone was … People really hype up the summers here. I can see why. So this was my first real experience of the summer in Montréal. It was a little restricted still because of COVID, but honestly, I think I had a pretty good year.

Maurice Cherry:
What makes the summer so nice in Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s so much to do. There’s so much going on here, event wise. There’s always something happening. You never run out of stuff to do. Typically, without any COVID or anything like that, there’s a ton of festivals that come in town and all that. It wasn’t as much as it typically would be, but there was still a lot of things to do here. There’s a lot of sports, a lot of physical activity, parties. There’s a lot. Honestly, I was a little bit overwhelmed at some point. It was a lot of things happening. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like Atlanta in the summertime.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Or really in the late spring, going into summer, because that’s sort of our festival season, and where there’s usually a festival, a neighborhood festival or something every weekend or something. I say that’s usually the best time to come because it’s not too hot, the pollen is usually not too bad around that time. It’s maybe a two or three week period where it’s like, “Oh, this is perfect.” We have that in the spring, going into the summer, and we have it in the early fall. Because it never really gets super cold here, so early fall, I don’t know, like back to school, September, October, is usually a really nice time.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s good to know about Montréal though. Maybe when the world starts to open back up, people can experience some of those summers.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, but you only want to come here in the summer, honestly, because winter is just miserable.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s no fall. It’s summer, then all of a sudden it is just winter.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man. So for 2022, do you have any goals or resolutions that you want to share?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So usually I try to set goals and plans. The only thing on my list for next year right now is to get my citizenship, become a Canadian. That’s the only thing on my list right now. I started the process this year, I submitted an application, so now I’m just playing the waiting game, but that’s the number one thing on my list.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Second … I would say this is kind of the second thing on the list, but I’m not really sure how it’s going to go. I decided I was going to try to do some exhibitions in Montréal, because I haven’t done any since I moved here. So, try to break into the art scene a little bit. Honestly, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by it, because it’s a big city, and there’s a lot of art here, there’s a lot of competition. So there’s that little fear there. So I am going to attempt to see if I can do some exhibitions next year. If not next year, then maybe 2023. It’s a little difficult given that I have my full-time job and I have my own personal practice. Yeah, but those are the two main things that I have planned for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of the full-time job, you work for MTL Développement. You work there as a graphic designer. Tell me about that entails. What’s a regular day look like for you?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the company is a real estate development company, so they build condos, they sell condos. So essentially my job there is to make promotional materials for the marketing department, essentially materials that help sell these condos. And so for each condo project, we create an entire brand around that project, and then we then try to create ads, and our design is based on that brand that we created. So the company itself has its own brand and then each of the projects has a brand that comes with it. So my job essentially is to create those brands and to design for those brands, and to make sure that everyone that is doing anything for the brands is adhering to the brand identity.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you’re doing this for, let’s say, like condominium complexes or subdivisions?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s mostly condominiums.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. I got you. Sounds like Montréal is probably a pretty booming real estate market then?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, it’s pretty booming, despite the fact that there was a pandemic. It’s still booming.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been working during the pandemic?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I wasn’t really affected too much. I think there was maybe a one or two month period where my hours were reduced. So we had to go on this program that the government would … I think you work out pay … You say about maybe 20%, and the government would pay the rest, so I had to cut down to like 20 hours for about a month or two, but I pretty much worked all through the pandemic. So, worked from home, worked in the office, worked from home again, and then now we are back in the office since the beginning of the year.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the job was pretty much not affected, but obviously there was a reduced … The real estate market suffered a little bit, so there was reduced sales. So the marketing was totally … It was a little bit different than what it is right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Also, with the work that you are doing as a designer, you work with another design agency called Queer-IT. Is that right?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that job, that’s actually the first job that I got in Montréal. So I came in October and then I got a job in November of 2019. And essentially, I saw this ad where they were hiring, looking for a graphic designer, because I was just applying for every graphic designer job I could see. So I saw the ad and had an interview with the person that runs the place, and then they just hired me.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, what the job we is, is you give them your hours and then they send proposals to you based on your hours, or sometimes they just reach out to you and ask you to send the quote for a certain job. And then if the client accepts your quote, then they give you the job. Or sometimes they just tell you, “Well, this client wants to rebrand. Their budget is $2,000. Can you work with that?” That kind of thing. That’s basically how the system works.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, it’s basically still like every graphic design job, except that I would say the company is maybe targeted more towards queer people. So that’s one thing that I was a little confused about when I got hired, or when I applied for the job. When I applied for the job, I said, “Well, I’m not queer, so are you only hiring queer people?” And they said, “Oh no, you can apply.” So yeah, I applied and I got the job.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. It sounds like a collective model, where you’re not necessarily working full time, but as work comes in, if you have the time to work on it, they pull you into the project, they include you on the proposal. You’re sort of part of the working team for whatever that project might be, if they happen to land it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Exactly, that’s how it goes. And then there’s some projects that I did with them where the client was doing a full business plan, so there was like a strategist there, there was a copywriter, and we work as a team to deliver the project.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I want to switch gears here a little bit as you’ve been talking about your work, because I’m curious to know more about you growing up. Because you’re really a prolific artist, and I think that’s something that I really want to explore more as we go on in the interview.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
That’s a big one.

Maurice Cherry:
So tell me about where you grew up.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. So Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world, over 200 million people. And Lagos probably has a [inaudible 00:11:51] 30 million people. Nobody knows the real number, because the census is very funny, very corrupt. But Lagos is huge. I grew up in Lagos.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Lagos, I would say, it’s pretty much … It’s a crazy city. There’s so much going on there, there’s so much crime, so much corruption. But again, even besides all that stuff, there’s a lot of art, there’s a lot of, I would say, heritage that comes with it. Lagos is an old city. It’s probably one of the oldest modern cities in Nigeria. So there’s always something going on.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So growing up, I wasn’t exposed to too much arts in a sense, but I’ve always had the talent to draw. I always knew how to draw, so I was always in the fine art class. And even when I went to high school, which is secondary school in Nigeria, you had to pick certain subjects. A lot of people were not doing fine arts, we were very few doing fine arts. Maybe 20 in the class. When I say 20 … This school was a big … I went to public secondary school, so it was a government public secondary school. It was huge. My graduating class had 506 people in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah. So it was a big school. Out of that 506, there was probably maybe 15 or 20 people that were doing fine arts. So that was my main exposure to arts. And honestly, the arts are not really supported in Nigeria. I think it’s a miracle that even my parents allowed me to go do arts at university. A lot of people were not happy about that. Because the general belief is that if you’re not a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, you’re not making money. So there was always that to battle with, but I would say that … Honestly, the truth is a lot of artists are not making money in Nigeria. I also think it’s the way they present themselves. Art is not really respected, but then there’s also people making a lot of money it from it too. So I think it’s all about positioning and how you market yourself.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting, because I was going to ask about whether or not your parents supported you in this, but it sounds like you really got that encouragement from school to focus on arts and everything. When you decided that you wanted to go to college for the arts and for design, were your parents okay with that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were totally okay with it. I didn’t know anything about design growing up. I was an artist in traditional media, so drawing, painting. So when I wanted to go to school, I wanted to do fine arts. And then I got the admission, and then I got to the school and then I did one year in fine arts. And then I had this friend that was doing graphic design and he would just make cool stuff on Photoshop. So I decided, “You know what? I want to make cool stuff.” So I just switched. That’s how I ended up in graphic design.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the program that I did was kind of an interdisciplinary program, in the sense that there was no real focus. We did a lot of things like art history or cover the art movements. We also did 3D … I did a full year in of 3D in design. I also did web design, I did regular graphic design, logos branding. We did everything, but there was no real focus. So even when I came out of college, I didn’t exactly know what I was because then it’s like you know how to do a little bit of everything, but you’re not really good at one thing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the one thing that lacked in that whole school was research, because there was more focus on the finished product. But then as I’ve come to learn, a lot of design relies heavily on the actual process, not as much as the finished product. So when I came to Canada, to NSCAD, to do the Masters, it was a totally different experience. Because then at NSCAD, they were focused on research. That’s when I learned how to do research.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so they wanted me to do something … Because the Masters program has a thesis, like a final project. So they wanted me to do something Nigerian based. So I ended up doing this … I decided to tackle a social problem, so I decided to focus on the oil industry in Nigeria. So oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, and Nigeria is divided into four parts. There is a North, which is pretty much half of the country, and then there’s the South South, Southeast, and then the Southwest. I’m from the Southeast. So Nigeria has three tribes: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa. So the Hausas are predominantly in the north, the Yorubas are predominantly in the Southwest, the Igbos are predominantly in the Southeast. And then the South, Southeast covers a lot of minorities.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But at the time, when oil was discovered, oil was only discovered in the South South. So what that meant was that oil exploration, all the illegal practices that companies like Shell and all this other big oil companies, all the illegal practices and everything, all the nonsense that comes with oil exploration, only happen in the South South. But the Nigerian economy is pretty much only reliant on oil. So what that means is that that part of the country produces pretty much most of Nigeria’s revenue and sustains Nigeria’s economy. But then the people are suffering because Shell has so much influence in the Nigerian government. And so what that means is that they’re pretty much allowed to get away with whatever they want.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the oil industry is regulated, but it’s regulated to a point. Like I remember when I was doing the projects, around 2015, then there was an average of 1,000 oil spills in Nigeria every year. And that’s the reported ones. But in Europe they only had like seven in the last 10 years. So that’s how much oil spillage happened in Nigeria, and that’s because of illegal practices of mostly Shell. So my whole project was focused around how can we create awareness, because usually the only time you can get the Nigerian government to do something about it is when there’s pressure from the international community.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the Nigerian government does a really good job at hiding this whole problem. There’s a good 30 million people in this part of Nigeria, in this South South region of Nigeria, but even when I was growing up in Lagos, you only heard about this problem when the people in the area got upset. And then they created rebel gangs, and then they started kidnapping white oil workers, and asking for ransom. That’s when you started hearing about it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But on a regular basis, you wouldn’t … Like people would die all the time there, there was huge respiration problems, there was huge pollution issues, nothing was ever covered in the news. Or if it was covered, it wouldn’t be highlighted upon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the whole focus was how can I create awareness to this problem? And then that awareness would force the Nigerian government to treat the people of that region well. And one major issue that Nigeria has, and even till now, is that even though Nigeria runs a federal government, the government is more unitary. Because I know, for example in the US, and even in Canada here, each province or state has control of its resources and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, pretty much.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, in Nigeria it’s the opposite. Even though we also have a federal government, all the states … We have 36 states, and each state, everything each state generates or makes goes to the center, and then it gets divided at the center to all 36 states based on some metric they come up with. So what that means is that the region or the country that was responsible for, say, 90% of the economy, by the time everything gets split based on population and other metrics they have, they get 15% back. But they are the ones taking all the damage, and so their whole protest has always been we want hundred percent control of our resources. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So initially when the rebels started, it started up as a small operation, and then it became a big time operation. They were kidnapping oil workers, they were killing government officials. 2006 was the peak of the rebels in that area. And they were getting their money from oil bunkering, which is also contributing to the problem. Oil bunkering is when you break a section of the crude oil pipeline, and then you take crude oil from it and then go refine it and then sell it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were doing that and they were making money to fund their operations, but that was also contributing to the problems, because that was causing oil spills and all the same environmental damage that the region was facing. And that region is right by the Atlantic ocean and then River Niger, which is the second largest river in Africa, and also runs through that region. So most people there are predominantly fishermen, and the water and the ecosystem is totally messed up. I think it’s going to take like a hundred years of no oil exploration for the environment to return back to its natural state. That’s how bad they’ve wrecked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that’s what I spent almost two years doing in the Masters. And it honestly was a very successful project. It taught me lots about Nigeria that I didn’t even know about. And it was an interesting research in the sense that me being Nigerian, and knowing all the nonsense that goes on in Nigeria, and then me now being outside Nigeria and trying to do all this research, and then reading research papers and materials from people that have been to Nigeria and seeing their take on Nigeria was pretty hilarious. There’s some American articles that I read about the same problem in Nigeria, and there are some claims they made and they said, “Well, this doesn’t happen.” Or, “This never happens.” Or the way they tried to exaggerate certain things was … Yeah. It was actually interesting to see that from a different perspective.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, that’s a lot that you just described around Nigeria and corruption in the country, and I definitely want to go back and touch on that, but I want to bring it back a little bit, because you took us all the way from college, to going to grad school, to going to Canada. It sounds like, back when you were mentioning this program, that it didn’t really prepare you for the working world. Was that the impetus to move to Canada? Did you just want to get out from another country? Because it sounds like you moved from Nigeria to Cypress, which is where this university was located. And then what spurred the move, of all places, to go to Canada?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
What spurred the move was I’ve always wanted to come to the west, so it was either Canada or US or maybe the UK. I left school in 2014 February. That’s college. But I was already applying to several schools. So I got to teach university in Arkansas, and good thing I didn’t go there because I don’t know who lives in Arkansas but … Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You would not have liked it. You would not have liked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the reason I ended up Nova Scotia was because the school has a little bit of reputation. I heard about the school and the founder of the school is Anna Leonowens. So I just wanted to go to the school, because the school had a reputation in the art community. I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia, I didn’t know anything about the school. I just did some quick research. It’s the smallest place I’ve ever lived in. I think it’s like 300,000 people in Halifax. So that was a complete shocker to me. It was a totally different experience. I just wanted to come to Canada, right? I wanted to come to Canada or US, but Canada just seemed to work out better. And my dad has always preferred Canada, because he doesn’t like America because of the guns, and the fact that most people are just a little bit crazy in America.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair. That’s a fair assessment. But Halifax also has a pretty big black population too. We’ve had, back on the show … Oh God, this might have been a hundred or so episodes ago, we had Duane Jones back on the show. I think that was episode 203, if I recall, so it was a while ago.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a huge black population, but you have to go look for them.

Maurice Cherry:
He said the same thing. He said that too. Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I used to work at a hotel in Halifax, at the front desk, and there are some times where a gal was having her birthday party, and all these black people would come. And every time I’m always confused. I’m like, “I have never seen this many black people before.” You actually have to go look for them. You have to go to specific places to find them.

Maurice Cherry:
How was it adjusting to Canada? I mean, outside from the fact that it’s a totally different country and different weather and everything, how was it adjusting?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It wasn’t too bad because when I came I was so busy with school that I didn’t really have time to do anything else. The weather was a huge shocker to me. So I came in August and there was a slow transition. And then, all of a sudden, on January first, that was the first time I ever saw snow in my life, there was a snow storm. January first of 2015, I woke up and there was a huge snowstorm, the snow was like four feet high. So yeah, that was an [crosstalk 00:25:38].

Maurice Cherry:
Whoo!

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So yeah, I had to shovel snow. So that was my first experience with snow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Adjusting wise, in terms of … The thing with NSCAD is at the time I was there, there was about 1,000 students roughly, maybe five black people.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There was no real advocacy. Again, it’s an art school, there’s not enough black people going to art schools. But I’m used to always being the only black person in most places that I go. Most classes or most things that I’ve done, I’m always the only black person there. That was not a problem for me. That’s something that I was already used to. But I never really had any issues, honestly, because Halifax is a very small and very laid back city. And also because it’s Canada too, there’s not a lot of overtly racist problems. People are very low key about their racism, because Canada … People here are supposed to be nice, so they always hide everything,

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s still there though.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, it’s a hundred percent still there. Like I had a lot of experiences when I worked at the hotel for about three years. There was a lot of incidents that I thought were pretty much very racist. But in general, there was nothing to the face. Plus I’ve also noticed this, I noticed this even from working at the hotel. Because I’m a very tall black guy, a lot of people just don’t mess with me, just in general. People just don’t mess with me even though … That’s just something I noticed. So I never had any issues, overtly.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
The first house that I stayed in … I don’t know if they have this in the US, but here in Canada, when you come to university for the first time they have this arrangement where you stay with a family. Yeah, so when I first came, I was about 20 years old. I came in August and I already arranged to stay with this family, and I only ended up staying there for three months because I don’t think that family has ever hosted a black person before, an African in general. So it was a very strange situation. It was this old woman and her husband, they were maybe in their 60s, 70s. And it was just weird living with them. They just didn’t know how to interact with an African. It was really odd. So I ended up moving out because I was just not comfortable.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so even that area they lived in, they lived on Gottingen Street in Halifax, which is a predominantly black neighborhood. So typically, because of the way Halifax has been, I say, constructed, that’s a hugely black populated area so there’s all these cops and all this sort of stuff. But at the end of Gottingen, it turns into a super white neighborhood, so that’s where I lived at that point. And so the woman, when I first moved there, she said, “Well, you have to be very careful because you’re going to be a person of interest.” I still don’t what that means till today. I just remember her saying that to me. And I still know what it means.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it just means … Honestly, it’s just you’re a black guy in a white neighborhood or something like that. So if something were to go down then you’re the first one that they’re going to suspect.

Maurice Cherry:
So where I live now in Atlanta is a pretty black neighborhood. It’s called the West End. But before that I stayed in Buckhead, which is kind of the richer, whiter part of town. I stayed there for a couple of years in college and then afterwards. And I remember I would go to the grocery store and get groceries, and then even on the walk home, which was not that far, because the grocery store was on the same street, maybe about a half a mile, I’d say three out of four times I would make that walk the police would just roll up slowly. You hear the siren and I’m like, “What’s going on?” “Well, we heard about some things going on in this area.” I’m like, “Well I’m walking with groceries, so I don’t know what you think I’m doing.” So it’s like, yeah, you’re a person of interest. They just want to, I don’t know, intimidate you I guess.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
In Halifax, there’s something they call DWB. It’s Driving While Black.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a lot that everywhere, it seems like.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a lot of racial profiling, people just getting stopped randomly.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black. Unfortunately, that is all still a thing that we have to contend with even this far into the future. But I want to talk about this project that you did in 2018. So you did this … I guess you could call it a creative project where you designed or you did these photo manipulations, adding yourself in with James Bond characters. You did 365 of these. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so the project was not about me adding myself. I think maybe I added myself in two out of 365.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But basically what the project was … The planning started in 2017. I decided I was going to do a 365 project. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Because every year I try to set a goal at the beginning of the year and say, “Okay, this is my new year resolution and this is how I want to accomplish it.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I started working at the hotel in 2016, and the only reason I started working at the hotel was because I needed to get my permanent residence, which is kind of like the Green Card. It’s similar to the Green Card in US. And part of the requirement was that I was required to work there for a year, and the hotel was helping with it, so I pretty much got stuck there. But I was fresh out of school, this was a year after I got out of school. But then I’m also thinking, “Well, I’m going to be stuck here for a good year at least, maybe two years. I’m not really practicing design. I need practice.” Because you need to practice or you’re going to forget. So I was thinking, how do I go about this? But I also have the issue where I was always working at the hotel and I had very little time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So in the summer I did this 26 day creative project where I did something with the alphabet every single day. I did ABCD. Something based on A, something based on B. Just like that. And then I did all 26 days. I didn’t miss a day. So I’m like, “Okay, so this is actually doable.” So I decided, okay, starting first of January of 2018, I’m going to do a 365 project, but I had no idea what I was going to do.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I did a lot of research, came across this lady, she said she didn’t know how to cook, so she went and bought the recipe book and she would make something from the recipe book every single of the year. And then there’s this guy in New York, he would go around New York and paint historic windows. So every day of the year he painted one historic window. A lot of projects like that, that I started following. So I was thinking, what am I going to do? And then I found this guy on Tumblr, when Tumblr was still a thing back then. He was doing a 365 project where he just remade one movie poster. And I was like, that’s actually interesting. I would like to do something that is movie related. And I’m a huge James Bond fan.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I saw this, then I remembered that there was this article that I saw about top 103 James Bond villains. I’m like, okay, so if there are 103 villains, it means that there’s more people. So I started looking up on the James Bond Wiki, I found [inaudible 00:33:17] characters. So I made a list of all the characters, did some research on each one to make sure that I had enough content that I could use. And so I did that, took me almost three months to compile. And then January first, the goal of the project was to make one poster that pays tribute to a different James Bond character every day. Just from the movies, not the books. So that was the goal of the project. And the only objective that I had was that every day just had to look different. That was just it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And at the beginning of the project, I wasn’t focused on the actual design itself. I was more focused on … The main challenge for me was … Because I knew I could do the design already, but can I do this for 365 days straight and not miss a single day? That was the most important thing to me. But I also didn’t want to cheat. I didn’t want to pre-make stuff. I have to make something every day. So for me that’s the challenge that was going on. Till today, some people don’t believe that I actually made one every single day. Some people are like, “So did you make three in advance and just wait and post it every day?” I’m like, “No.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Considering how much time it took, because I was averaging about 3.5 hours every day by the end of the year. And some days I had four hours, some days I had one hour, some days I had three hours. Well, basically I had about 3.5 hours every day to … I knew the character already, come up with a concept, and execute that concept. So that totally changed my whole design process, because there’s one problem that I had that that project fixed. The problem was when I get an idea and I think that this idea is a good idea, then I’m going to stick with it. It’s hard for me to leave that idea alone. But this project made me unintentionally grow out of the habit. Because there’s some days where I’m looking at the time, I’m like, “Well, I’ve been stuck on this one idea for three hours now. I have only two hours left. I have to do something else.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So then at first I would discard ideas. But then somebody told me, “Well, instead of discarding it, then you can just have a folder where you just put in all the stuff that you haven’t used, and then in the future you can use them again.” Which is what I started doing, I would just put the ideas there. But at first, the first month started off as more of an abstract deal, because I was afraid of copyrights and stuff. But then when I read up on copyrights and all this sort of stuff, I was able to move towards more using the photos. And honestly, when I started, I wasn’t delusional, thinking I was going to go all the way. I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to do this and see how it goes.” And then when I actually did the first 30 days and I didn’t miss a single day, I was so much confidence. So that’s how went that project went.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask, what did you learn about yourself throughout that process?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I am kind of a perfectionist, but then I also learned that I have to be okay. Because usually when you post your work online, you’re usually posting what you think is the best. Like, “Okay, this is really, really good and I’m going to post it.” But then I realized, well, I either have to make really good stuff and post it every day or I have to be fine with posting stuff that are not very good.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, at first I really struggled with that because I’m like, “If I have to post this, this has to be good on some level. It has to be good on some scale.” And so it started off like that, but then I met a lot of people that were doing projects too, and I talked to a lot of people. And a lot of people told me that you have to be fine with the days that are not good. You have 365 days, so if this day is not so great, you had a bad day. The next day you can knock it out of the park.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I also figured out how to take breaks without missing a day. So some days, because I was working morning shifts or evening shifts or night shifts. So some days I would make something at nine o’clock in the morning, and the next day I’d make something at 8:00 PM. So that’s a good, what, 30 hours of rest? So it’s like I missed a day, but I didn’t really miss a day. And I made a lot of sacrifices. There were parties or places I couldn’t go to because I’m like, “Well I haven’t done today’s work.” So everything is in the back burner until I do today’s work. Once I do the work and post it, it’s like a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief, that came with that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I have to give it to you for really finding a way to do it every day. I did a similar type of a 365 project. Not a visual project, I did a podcast where I recorded an episode every day for 365 days called The Year of Tea. And I did these short, five minute episodes just reviewing a different tea every day. And I didn’t get to it every day. There were definitely some days that I batched about a week together, especially if I was traveling or something like that. So I have to give it to you for carving out … I mean, one, carving out time to do it each day, but then the fact that you carved out so much time, like you said you were averaging around like three and a half hours a day for these designs. That’s a lot of time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, there’s a few days where I spent a good eight hours on this. I’m like, “Well today is Saturday, I’m home, sure.” I would sit in front of my computer for eight hours. Because then, the days that I have so much time, I feel like those days that’s where I put in way too much time and I try too hard. Because I’m like, “Well I have a lot of time today, so I’m just going to spend as much time as possible in this.” But there’s a day that I only have 30 minutes and I managed to do something also.

Maurice Cherry:
And you told me before we had started recording that there’s hundreds of characters to choose from. Because initially I was like, “There’s over 365 James Bond characters?” I was like, there’s James Bond, there’s probably every bond girl, every bond villain, and I feel it sort of tops off right there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I mean there were some people that have one scene you know? There was a few people that showed up for one scene, so you have to do something for this one person. Maybe they said something funny. But so what I did was, when I was setting up the list, I spread out the characters. Because there’s a lot of characters that I wanted to get to, so I spread them out. So it was those characters that I wanted to get to that kept me going the whole time. I kind of put them strategically. So at the beginning of every month I have one major character, so one big villain or something like that. Day 200, I have one big character I have to work on. I strategically positioned each one.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the way I started the project … So all James Bond movies, and even the recent ones, there’s this organization called [Spectre 00:40:13]?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So each person at that time, especially from the movies in the ’60s, they had a number. So there’s a number one, number two, number three. So that’s how I started. And then on day seven, I did James Bond, which is Double O Seven. So that’s how I started the first few days. But there were little things like that. And so, I unintentionally populated the James Bond internet space. Like when you just look up random things about James Bond, you see my stuff popping up. So that that’s something that I’m really happy about.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean the thing with James Bond movies is that they come out every few years or so, so there’s a lot of time between movies to really fill that space with stuff, because there’s not a lot of active talk. I don’t even know if there’s a James Bond comic book or something. You would think with all the superhero movies and stuff, there’s always some kind of media that fills the gap between movies. It’s a television show, there’s a comic book, there’s something. James Bond, it feels like exists only in fiction and in movies. Of course it’s from the books, but there’s not really that other media around it to fill the gap.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I think a few people not named Ian Fleming have written books recently. But I think it’s because Barbara Broccoli that owns the IP, and MGM, they have a really, really strict hold on the IP, so it’s very difficult for you to be able … Now that Amazon bought MGM, maybe Amazon might want to produce a TV show or something. Who knows? But I also think it’s because the IP is so old and it’s right from the ’60s, so it’s one of those things where there’s so much content already, so maybe they don’t think they’re going to make money. Who knows? I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Could be. Oh God, you mention that … I feel like there was a cartoon series for James Bond. I don’t know if you remember. Well, I don’t know if they even showed it outside the US. It was called James Bond Junior. I’m showing my age by saying this, but it was like in the early ’90s. They had a TV show called James Bond Junior. I think it probably only lasted a season, but it was James Bond’s nephew who was also named James Bond, which I guess kind of makes sense for the show. But yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s on YouTube or something.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I’ll tell you one anecdote about Africans in general. So, if you say … Say I’m 27 right now and say you’re 37, all the things that you experienced as a 37 year old, when you say you were 10, I probably experienced the same thing. Now, because of the internet, everything gets everywhere quickly, but as I’d say, the late ’90s, early 2000s, we were a good 10 years behind everything. The first computer I used was Windows 98. I also used dial up internet, I had a Walkman, I had the CD player, all the stuff, VHS. All the stuff that people my age here didn’t experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Out of all of the characters that you did, was there a favorite one?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My favorite one was … What was it? Day 124, which is May Day.

Maurice Cherry:
Grace Jones.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, Grace Jones. So I did that on May first, which is May Day. So, that’s my absolute favorite. That’s the one that I’ve sold the most, that’s the one that people love the most.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to have to check that one out. I don’t know if I saw that one on your site, but I definitely have to go check that one out.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You know the famous We Can Do It poster, with the woman flexing her biceps?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I did one with Grace Jones, where the background is yellow.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. Nice, nice. So you alluded to this when you mentioned this piece, but you’ve even managed to exhibit designs from this project, you’ve done a number of different exhibitions with it. How have those went?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
They went really well. So at the beginning of 2019, I did the exhibition … Actually, no, in May of 2019, I did an exhibition in a small gallery called Corridor Gallery in Halifax. It’s at Visual Arts, Nova Scotia. So that was the first exhibition that I’ve ever done. So I would consider myself a digital artist, so having to print out my stuff, put it in a frame, hanging it on a wall, totally new to me. But that was a great experience, so that’s the first time that I felt like an artist. That was amazing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I got to exhibit at the Halifax Public Library last year, despite the pandemic. I was there for about two months. The gallery there is a very lovely space. Huge. And they only accept, I think six artists a year, because each person stays for two months. So I applied and they accepted almost immediately. So I was beyond overjoyed. So that was the big exhibition that I had done. It was very good. I made a few sales from that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But like I said, the exhibitions, those were the things that made me feel like a real artist. So I really like exhibitions, that’s why I want to do some in Montréal, like a bigger city. Because I’ve always considered myself like a Nigerian artist. So the James Bond thing, I got a little popular from that because the James Bond IP was world renowned. Some people have never seen a James Bond movie, but when you say James Bond, everyone pretty much has an idea what you’re talking about. But I kind of want to stray away from that in a sense. I want to do more African themed exhibitions, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I’m trying to see if I can do something for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
So what prompted the move from Halifax to Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like I was saying earlier on, Halifax is a very small city. Honestly, I was looking at it and … Because I did that job at the hotel where I was pretty much stuck for three years … I stayed in Halifax for five years. Two years in school, three years at the hotel. And I was at that hotel, stuck. I couldn’t leave because of the whole immigration thing, so I was not happy in general. And my last year at the hotel, there was a lot of racially motivated shit that went on. So every time that I think of Halifax, I associate it with the hotel.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My plan was always get my permanent residence and move to some other city in Canada. That was always my plan. But I got my permanent residence in 2018 October, and then I decided, okay, in the new year, I’m moving to a new city. That was my resolution for 2019. I’m leaving Halifax in 2019. But the thing is because I made so many friends there, I knew so many people, I knew the city well, I was so comfortable, I just relaxed a little bit. So 2019 came around, and I applied for this artist residency in Banff. Banff is in Alberta. So I applied for the artist residency and made it to like the final three, but I didn’t get it. But that was my plan. I was like, okay. I had assumed that I was getting it for sure. That was how much faith I had in this. I was like, “Okay, once I get this, I’m just going to move to Banff.” The program was a two year program, do it for two years and make connections, and see what happens from there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I didn’t get the program, so I decided, okay … So that was in May of 2019. I was like, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” I wasn’t sure. So my sister had a wedding coming up in August, so I went to Nigeria for the first time in six years for the wedding. And I decided, you know what? Once I come back from this wedding, I’m moving. But where to? I wasn’t sure. So I wanted to move to Vancouver because my sister was coming to BC for school, but then I started looking up Montréal because I knew somebody that lived here. I started looking up Montréal. So I went on Indeed, checked to see graphic design jobs. I was like, “Oh, there’s a lot of graphic design jobs here.” And I can learn French. So I decided, you know what? I’m moving to Montréal.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I decided, okay, I’m moving. So I went to Nigeria, I came back, I gave them my two weeks notice at the hotel, and then I moved in October first. Luckily for me, I was able to get an apartment right from Halifax. So I got the apartment, but then I started getting cold feet, because then I didn’t have a job, no real concrete plan. So to make sure that I moved, I shipped all my bags.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one way to make it happen.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I left just one bag. So after I shipped my bag, I bought my plane ticket. I was like, “Okay, I have to move now.” But then I discovered something. There’s so many people that discouraged me from moving. There was a few people that were like, “You know what, this is a good move. You’re probably going to make big advancements from moving.” But there are so many people that were projecting their fears and telling me, “Well, if you move then it doesn’t work out, what are you going to do?” People were saying all this stuff to me. But then I talked to my parents and they were in support of it, and I just moved.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I got to Montréal and I decided, well, I already did the job, worked at restaurants, walk at hotels, I think it’s time for me to get a design job now. So I decided, you know what? I’m only going to get a design job. So that’s how I ended up in Montréal.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’ve been in Montréal for what? A little over, you said two years now, something like that pretty much?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
About two years, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you gotten a chance to kind of see what the design community has been like outside of work?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Not really, because last year it happened, so that was kind of a write off. And then this year has been super busy trying to balance both jobs and also trying to have a semblance of a practice outside of work. So I haven’t actually had the chance, but recently I’ve been going to art galleries, checking out a few stuff and seeing what people are up to. But as for the design community here, the truth is in Montréal, if you don’t speak French, then you’re very limited in a way. Even though Montréal is super bilingual, most people you meet speak both languages, but if you speak French it’s like a new world opens up to you there. So that’s what I’m trying to do by learning French.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s your French going so far?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Pretty good. All of 2020, I didn’t learn French, even though one of my goals was to learn French. So I moved here, but then I got cold feet, because I got a job even without speaking French. But then I was thinking if I try to learn French what happens if I forget words? What if I can’t learn? What if I can’t do it? Because usually I do things that I know that a hundred percent I’m going to succeed at this, that’s the kind of things I like to do. So I was a little afraid, but then at the beginning of this year, I was like, you know what? This is my New Year resolution. I’m a hundred percent committed to learning French, despite work and everything. So then I got Duolingo and then I got a private tutor. And honestly, the progress that I made this year, it leaves me thinking, why didn’t I even start last year?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, I actually made good progress. Speaking is very difficult because the pronunciations … The pronunciations are especially difficult for me because the sounds don’t sound like Igbo, and a lot of them don’t sound like English either. So there’s some sounds in French that my brain cannot just wrap around. It’s a fun challenge, so I’m not complaining.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I feel like the Nigerian accent is, and this is kind of this way with some African languages, it’s very throat based. The accent is very much deep in the throat, whereas with French, everything is nasally. There’s a lot of nasal stuff to it. So I know when you’re learning French, a good phrase when you get stuck with something and you don’t know, and your tutor probably told you this too, but just say, “[French 00:52:44].” Which is, “How do you say?” Yeah, so you can be speaking and you say-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, that’s a good one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you can [inaudible 00:52:50], you’re like, “Eh, [French 00:52:51]”]. And you kind of roll your way through it. And most people … I mean, I’ve not been in a lot of immersive situations. When I have been, it’s mostly been France French, not Montréal French or Quebec French or Quebecois or whatever, it hasn’t been that sort of regional-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s a totally different bag, but the thing is my teacher is from France, and Duolingo I’m also doing is French, so that’s what I’m focused on.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, once you really start immersing yourself in it … And I would say now it’s probably a lot easier to do, especially you got a smartphone or stuff like that, because you can set the language to French. And then you learn just from picking up context clues and stuff like that. You can watch movies with the subtitles and get the sense of what they’re saying, things like that. It’s a lot easier now than it used to be.

Maurice Cherry:
When I learned French, I was a kid. I mean, I started in second grade and then studied it all through high school and all through college. So I know enough to speak it and read it, but it’s a different thing to be immersed in it, when it’s the only thing you hear. My French is very situational. If I’m in a situation where I need to know French, like it’s a French restaurant, I’m like, okay, I know all the things to get around. Like where’s the bathroom, I will order this, I need this. I know that stuff. But then if it were something where I’m plopped into Paris, I’m like, oh, okay. That’s the real test is how do you use it from day to day.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But that’s the really amazing part about living in Montréal, because all the signs, everything is in French. It’s kind of a rule they have in Quebec. If you have any sign or anything you see outside is usually in French. That’s the rule they have. So everywhere you go, you’re exposed to French. People will say bonjour to you first, and then if you respond in English, then they speak in English to you. So my favorite game to play now is whenever I go out, I bullshit my way with French until the person realizes that I don’t speak very good French. I want to see how long I can play the game.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good way to do it, that’s a good way to do it. What are you most excited about at the moment?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s one thing that really, really excites me. Oh one thing that I did this year that I can’t believe I did was I learned how to ride a bike. Yeah, I never knew how to ride a bike because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a bike. So I just never learned how to ride a bike. So when I moved to Canada, it’s one of those things where I’m like, I don’t know if this is something that I can do, so I just never did it. But then I tell people I can’t ride a bike and people can’t believe it, because most people can ride a bike. So I decided, you know what? This summer, this is what I’m doing this summer. This is my summer project.

Maurice Cherry:
So did you buy a bike? Did you use one of those rent a bikes or something like that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It was more like a rental one or a friend’s bike or something like that. I’m going to buy a bike, but that’s going to be next summer, because you can’t bike here in the winter. There’s people doing it, but those people, I think they have issues.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But yeah, so that was the one thing that I did this year. It seems very small, but it’s one thing that just gives me great joy. Because I did a 30 minute lesson, and I could balance myself already by the end of the 30 minutes. And then I did another 30 minute lesson, and the next time after that, I was able to do eight kilometers. And then I was able to do 16, 20. And at the end of the summer I did 35 kilometers, so that was pretty amazing for me. All the while I never fell, until the last time I biked this summer, before it became cold. I was coming down on the bridge, one of these bridges in Montréal here, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. I was coming down really fast, and they have these barricades that you have to wiggle yourself around. For some reason I got carried away. Next thing I know, I saw myself flying over one of these barricades. Yeah, that’s the first time that I’ve fallen in a really long time. Yeah, it was bad.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would’ve went to if you didn’t become an artist and a designer?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Probably an engineer, because my dad is an engineer. So even though he was very supportive, and even my mom was very supportive too, I feel like if I didn’t go into design, they probably would have steered me in the direction of doing engineering.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have an interest in it or do you think they would’ve just pushed you towards that because of societal expectations?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I never had an interest in it. Honestly, I’ve never had interest in science in general. I can’t think of one profession in science that I have any interest in, honestly. I’ve never had an interest at all. I think I’ve always been an artist at heart. And so even my uncles were really against this. Like, “How can you make money from art?” I was never really worried about money, because I always tell people it doesn’t matter what you read in university. There’s people on YouTube now making funny faces and making millions. I’m like, they didn’t go to school for that. So I honestly think that what you go to study in university is not relevant to how much money you would make or how successful you’re going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean now the whole thing that I see with some artists that are making money, they’re making it off of NFTs. I was reading this … It was some article I read maybe a couple of weeks ago about this artist. She’s a Canadian artist. I forget where, but she just started learning about NFTs in about a month or so. And then using that, she made, I think 50 something NFTs, and has made like $300,000 or something like that. If you’re able to get that much just off of a month’s worth of learning, you can do anything.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’ve looked into NFTs a little bit, but I haven’t … I have a two week vacation at the end of the year, so I want to use the two weeks to really educate myself and see what I can do. Because so many people have been telling me, “You have to look into NFTs.” So I’m like, okay, maybe this is something I’m going to look into. Who knows? Maybe that’s where I’m going to make it big. Because my goal in art is to make that one piece of art that’s going to pay me for the rest of my life. That’s my goal.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey, if you find a way to make it happen, let us know, share the knowledge so we can get in on it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I want to be that guy that just sticks a banana on the wall and people just pay $200,000 for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then everyone can cry about it [inaudible 00:59:57].

Maurice Cherry:
If there’s somebody that’s out here that’s listened to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I would say, honestly speaking, I’m probably one of the most fortunate persons that I know. I would say that because pretty much most things that I do, I succeed. I don’t know if there’s something special that I’m really doing that is leading me to succeed in most things that I do, but I don’t know, somehow I usually just pull it off. But I’m also someone that if I decide I’m doing something I’m going all in. And if I start something and if I realize that, you know what? Maybe this is not going to work out. I usually back out early. Once I get deep into it, then I’m seeing it all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like for example, the 365 project. By July, I was getting really, really tired, exhausted. Coming up with a new idea every day is not easy. Plus I have to make these all through artist blocks, like creative blocks. I had to find a way to make stuff. But I was also thinking, if I’ve made it this far, there’s no way I’m stopping now, because then if I stop, I’m going to regret this for a long time. So that’s usually how I approach most things. Once I start, I’m going all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
This is a problem that I realized that a lot of Nigerians have, and I used to have this problem. People are afraid to fail. Nigerians are afraid to fail in general, because the culture does not really encourage failure in a way where I feel sometimes failure is very important for you to get to the next level. Like you hear about these scientists where, oh, this inventor made 800 different versions before the final one worked. That’s not encouraged in Nigerian culture. If you do something, you have to succeed at it. This idea that nine out of 10 new businesses fail, if you start a business in Nigeria and you fail, a lot of people are going to make fun of you, even though it’s perfectly normal for businesses to start and fail.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So it took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that not everything I do is going to go the way I want it. And so since I’ve learned to accept that fact, I think my life has gotten a lot better.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’m not really a five year planning kind of person. I like to take things as they come, so okay, I plan for the next year. At end of the year, I’m going to sit down and think and see, and write down my goals and see if I have things that I want to accomplish next year. But usually, I take it year by year. So every year I have a big new year resolution that I want to hit, and I have very little ones that I … Because I like checklists, so I like to check, check, check. So I have very little things that I want to do, and I have a big one that I want to do for the year. And so I don’t really have five year plans.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Ideally, at the end of the day, I want to own my own design agency. I think, even before that, I want to become full-time freelance, but I still need to gain the confidence, because right now it’s really nice when you expect two paychecks every month. But then when you become full-time freelance, then you know that you have to do as much as possible, maybe at the beginning, to get money. Because I was looking into Upwork, and I realized that a lot of people in Upwork, they’re very, very talented and they’re probably very experienced. But if you’re starting an Upwork, you have to start like you’re starting all over. Because you have to beef up your reputation and your cred for you to be able to make money from it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, I still need to gain a little bit of confidence, but eventually I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to go full-time freelance, because I think that, like my dad always says to me, “You can’t get rich from counting on other people’s money.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work online?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You talked about my website. I have to update the website because I made that website as a portfolio website when I was looking for a job, so I never really went back to go update it, but I think I’m going to go update it. But my website is mister365.ca, so Mister, M-I-S-T-E-R dot C-A. I’m very active on Instagram. My Instagram is nigerianexpert, E-X-P-E-R-T. You can find me on Instagram, that’s usually the best place to reach me. Or Facebook by my name, Emmanuel Nwogbo, N-W-O-G-B-O. I’m very active online.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Emmanuel Nwogbo, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think from hearing you tell your story and even you talking about moving here from Nigeria, I get this sense that you have this very quiet, maybe not so quiet, confidence about you. I mean, I feel like you’re downplaying it maybe a little bit, but I definitely get this quiet confidence from you when it comes to pursuing the work that you want to do. Because it takes a lot of guts to move from Nigeria to Cypress, to Nova Scotia, now to Canada. You’re still in your 20s, you’re still trying to figure it out, you’re taking on these creative projects. That takes a lot of confidence to be able to do all of that and still push forward and succeed, so I’m going to be excited to see what else you accomplish moving forward with your entire creative career. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, thank you very much for having me. I had a good time talking to you.

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

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Samuel Adaramola

“Blackness is multifaceted.” When Samuel Adaramola told me that before we started recording, I knew we were going to have a great conversation. Samuel is a talented multimedia creative, who most recently used his skills as a media producer on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. We talked a good bit about what it’s like to work on a political campaign of that magnitude, how he first got involved, and how he worked to get the campaign’s message out during this time of physical/social distancing.

Samuel also spoke on growing up in the USA and attending school, spoke on how journalism impacts his creative process, and gave me a peek into his visual storytelling process. Samuel’s energy and drive really come through in this interview, so I hope you take a listen and get inspired!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, let’s start the show. All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Hi, my name is Samuel Adaramola. I am a multimedia professional currently working as a media producer for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign.

Maurice Cherry:
What is a regular day like for you on the campaign? And I’m asking this considering for people that are listening, we’re recording this on April 2nd. We are in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak. As much as that has impacted nearly every industry in every sector, I’m just curious, what’s it like working on the campaign right now?

Samuel Adaramola:
Well, let me start by answering what it was like before the unfortunate pandemic. And yesterday made it a year since I’ve been in a campaign, and this is my first time working on a presidential campaign.

Samuel Adaramola:
And every day is different, and what we’re trying to do in the campaign and what we’re able to accomplish somewhat was, do everything internally in terms of our production, all of our design is in-house, all of our ads that we do on video and all of our social media videos was done in-house.

Samuel Adaramola:
So it’s a constant churning of production, and this means that we have to put on multiple hats. We have to be producers, we have to be editors, we have to be filmmakers as well. So every day kind of brought something different.

Samuel Adaramola:
So sometimes it’ll kind of give you a newsroom vibe where we meet regularly and try to determine what ideas do we have for today or this week based on certain policies that have been released or certain things that are in a new cycle. We want to meet regularly to determine what that is.

Samuel Adaramola:
And sometimes these ideas are short term, like quick turnarounds based on new cycles, and other times they are long form projects. If we want to go to a certain community and for example, I had the privilege and honor of going to North Carolina, Durham, North Carolina to McDougald Terrace, which is a public housing facility that was unfortunately been neglected. And as a result, the tenants there have been living in inhumane conditions.

Samuel Adaramola:
So finding stories like that or having those stories come our way where we will have to fly out to certain locations and do some location scoutings and set up interviews and things like that. So it really depends. But I would, it’ll be most likely kind of like a newsroom setting where we’re just meeting together and trying to figure out what’s the best idea to put out there.

Samuel Adaramola:
And I’m part of the digital team and we would, this is comprised of film editors, graphic designers, the social media team as well. So we will just come together and kind of discuss different ideas.

Samuel Adaramola:
Now in the face of this pandemic, we have had to pivot like most people in America, and the world right now. We’ve had to pivot to a fully remote operation and we’ve tried to and what we’ve done and shout out to our team, we have kind of pivoted to focusing a live stream and doing content that way.

Samuel Adaramola:
But, however we have regular meetings online and we are coming together kind of keep that vibe to brainstorm ideas of how we can do it in the midst of this pandemic. One idea I wanted, I pitched in the middle of producing is, how does this pandemic exacerbate the disparities that exist in Black communities and low income communities?

Samuel Adaramola:
So I was able to reach out to some doctors who serve low income and Black communities and do a Skype or a Zoom call and have it recorded and conduct interviews that way.

Samuel Adaramola:
So I think you know this Maurice, and I’m sure your listeners do know this as well, it’s like creativity really comes when there’s constraint and I think right now, we are in a deep constraint where we are forced to kind of think outside the box and try to find ways to really get our messaging out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How did you first get involved with the campaign? You’ve been there now for a year. That’s a long time in a political campaign. I don’t know if people that are listening really realize that, but given the intensity and the frequency of work that you have to do, a year is a long time.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. A year is a long time and how I did get involved in the campaign was prior to joining the campaign, I was working as a multimedia specialist for Our Revolution, which is a nonprofit that came out of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.

Samuel Adaramola:
I wasn’t involved in the 2016 campaign. Honestly, I wasn’t really, I wouldn’t call myself a very politically active person, but I think that the opportunity came at a time. I was a freelancer prior to that and it came at a time where I was kind of, for lack of better words, fed up with the working on projects and doing things that I didn’t really care for.

Samuel Adaramola:
I call myself an idealist, I believe in a better world and I wanted to work in that capacity. Use my creativity for good and this opportunity came as sheer luck, saw it online and applied and I was liked enough to be asked to join.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. I was there for three years. Initially started as the lead designer there and we weren’t doing any type of video production and anybody will tell you, the landscape of social media, you kind of want to be producing videos, whether it be short term or long term. And I saw it as an opportunity to kind of pitch that idea of hey, we should do videos.

Samuel Adaramola:
I have a little bit of a background in it. I minored in film in my undergrad at Towson University, so I was comfortable doing it and also did a little bit of video work while I was freelancing as well.

Samuel Adaramola:
So I pitched it, put up a budget of what it would cost to get all the gear and shout out to Senator Nina Turner, who’s also a part of the Bernie campaign. But when she came into be the president of Our Revolution, she sat all the staff down one-on-one and one of the things that we talked about in my one-on-one with her was that it is my desire to kind of rebrand the campaign.

Samuel Adaramola:
And she gave me that opportunity and I was able to do that as the lead designer. This was before I switched roles, but I just wanted to kind of throw that out there as that being an experience that really allowed me to kind of flex my muscles a bit in a creative capacity and actually take on the task of rebranding of an organization.

Samuel Adaramola:
Since Our Revolution was so closely tied to Senator Sanders, it was kind of a no brainer that people who are involved in Our Revolution take on the opportunity to join the campaign. So it was just like an easy transition, and Senator Turner who was the president of Our Revolution, joined the campaign and we were given the opportunity to join the campaign as well.

Samuel Adaramola:
And that’s how it happened. Luck being at the right place at the right time and rising to the occasion and stepping up to those opportunities.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like it’s a little more than luck though. I mean you put in the work too.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. I want to maintain humility here, but I definitely worked hard. Being in Our Revolution, which was a new organization and we were always trying to, as the term goes, we were always trying to build the plane while flying it. And I’m very proud of the work we were able to do there. And a lot of people who were part of Our Revolution are on the campaign currently and we’re still doing great work.

Samuel Adaramola:
And it was kind of like we graduated college together and we all started the same job together because it was such an experience that, how can I say this, that constituted growth and being on a campaign allowed us to grow even further in our respective areas.

Samuel Adaramola:
I can speak for myself that joining the campaign as a media producing, producing some of these social media videos and being a part of some, creating some ads. I did some voiceover work for one ad, but just being a part of that process and kind of see how things that have been made in my year definitely allowed me to grow in my creative capacity.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds like you have the opportunity to involve yourself in a lot of different projects within the campaign. Like you just said, there’s a little film, there’s some voiceover, you’re doing design work and for those who don’t know, I mean I’ve mentioned this on the show before. I used to work in a campaign, not a presidential campaign. I want to be clear about that. That was a mayoral campaign.

Maurice Cherry:
So I at least understand to a degree the level of intensity that has to go into it. Of course, running for mayor and running for president are two entirely different things in terms of scope and scale and everything, but I know what it’s like, like being in the campaign office. Late hours, everyone’s working together. It’s such a, it becomes a very tight knit group of people and you’ve all went through this experience together.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting, like even from past administrations. How you hear like say the Obama administration, you hear about people that are working together or they’ve partnered up with someone else who worked with the campaign or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Going through that kind of crucible of an experience, it does spark growth because there’s just so much that’s, it’s a really like a microcosm almost of what it’s like to work for a business or to run a business. There’s so many different things you have to do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely. I would say that it does kind of feel like a startup. I do want to backtrack. I didn’t do, or I haven’t done much design work if at all during the campaign. My task was mainly video production, so that’s where my lane was.

Samuel Adaramola:
But some of the designers who came from Our Revolution are the designers in the campaign and I’m able to collaborate with them with certain pieces and see what they’re working on and put our heads together for creating dope content.

Samuel Adaramola:
But yeah, you’re absolutely right. It is a microcosm, so to speak. You don’t know how much you’ve grown until you sit and look back. And with my one year being yesterday, I’m like wow. I don’t think I would have created this many videos or pushed myself this far. Some things that I was kind of a little apprehensive about doing initially, April 2019. I have no fears in doing that right now.

Samuel Adaramola:
So definitely appreciative of this experience and how grueling it is. I mean, I have no reference. I mean you’ve worked in a gubernatorial campaign and I had no prior campaign experience. So it’s funny because a colleague who was at Our Revolution who didn’t want to join the campaign, she had her experiences in campaign. She’s like, my experience is enough.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s one thing about campaigns. You either will only do it once or it’s the only thing you will ever do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah, and I haven’t…

Maurice Cherry:
Or it’s the only thing you will ever do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah. I haven’t done it at all, so I said, “Let me see what this is about, at least.” I believe, and again, like I mentioned before, I’m an idealist. I believe in a better world. That’s part of why I support Senator Sanders and have been a part of his network of policy and social change. Because, in him, what initially drew me to him, because I’ve never seen someone run for president who is a documented, I guess, activist for the civil rights movement. I’m referring to the picture of him getting arrested for protesting housing segregation in Chicago. Seeing that picture and be like, “Huh, he’s running for president?” And knowing that he wasn’t aware that that picture even existed. You know what they say that, show me who you are when nobody’s looking? That’s your true stuff, so that’s why I’ve taken a liking to him so much initially and just grown to believing in equitable world for everybody. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I want to continue to fight.

Maurice Cherry:
When I worked with campaigns, it’s funny you mentioned that about the point of reference. There was no point of reference when I did it either because I was working on the first set of municipal races after Obama got elected for his first term. Obama’s first term, that team did so much around design and social media and getting the word out that was really unprecedented for-

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
… not even just a political campaign for president, but any type of campaign like that.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Those first sets of municipal races afterwards, I will tell you every politician that I spoke with wanted to copy that Obama playbook. They were like, “How do we get votes through social media? How can we do what Obama did? I’m trying to get some of that Obama magic.” It’s like, “Hire someone from Obama’s team?” I don’t know, but it was a lot of trial and error and at the time when I was working in the campaign, I mean, I had my own studio. I had just started actually my own studio in late 2008 after Obama got elected.

Samuel Adaramola:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
The first big client I had was the political campaign that I worked on, and so it was a lot to come up to speed with what they were trying to do and the message they were trying to get out. I mean, it was a totally … Now that I think about it, that was over 10 years ago. It was a totally different landscape. We had a MySpace page.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh wow. That’s a throwback.

Maurice Cherry:
We had a customized MySpace page. We had a Flickr page. We had a Meetup page. Twitter was around. We had Twitter. We had Facebook. We had LinkedIn, most of the big social media places that are out now was there. But we legit had a MySpace page. It seems like ages ago, but that was over 10 years ago. I’m curious because technology has continued to change since then, I would say most notably how much more people are using smartphones. There’s a lot of push towards mobile, a lot more things going on mobile. I’m curious from your standpoint, how do you plan for mobile given that more people are used to receiving text messages and doing stuff with apps and things than they were, I’d say, even four years ago in 2016?

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah. I mean, some things that I observed whether directly or indirectly played a part of during the time of the campaign is that our ground game is strong in terms of our organizing efforts and our fundraising efforts. One of the ways we prepared for mobile is we actually developed an app for mobile. This app, you can see all of the policies there. You can see some of the graphics that our design team has created. You could see some of the videos that pertain to some of the policies that we’ve created all on the app. Not only that, we’ve made it an engaging experience where people can sign people up to help register people to vote. If you have a network as friends, you could share all the videos and share all the graphics and stuff.

Samuel Adaramola:
That’s something we definitely kept in mind. Like I mentioned, we did everything in-house. We had an in-house product team that developed the technology and the apps to create it, so that’s definitely something we’ve always kept in mind. Even on the video sense is, we always create our videos to be optimized for a mobile experience. So we’re cutting things in square. We’re making sure that captions are always present and legible, so whether you have a disability or not or whether you just don’t have the volume of your phone on, we want to make sure that people are able to see or at least read what the video is about. These are things that we’ve always kept in mind when we’re constantly creating, whether it’s something that is as direct as having an app created or in the way we create videos and create content.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have to do any internationalization, because just given the coalition of people that you’re trying to reach as a president, I’m wondering if you have to do a lot of translation or things of that-

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… nature too. Yeah.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely. I think one of the things that we started to do was we started to translate all of our graphics to several languages; Spanish, Arabic, a slew of others, where we started to have that in mind. With our videos as well, we will always do Spanish translations, especially if it’s a video that pertain to a specific policy or issue that affected that community. That’s always something that we kept in mind, and I’m proud to say that we did a pretty good job with it, especially on the graphic side.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you end up reaching supporters or voters who are probably not traditionally online in like this current pandemic climate we’re in right now?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. I mean, one of the ways we did it, and I guess pre-pandemic is that we had a lot of volunteers who would make calls. That was probably one of our largest efforts in organizing. We made millions and millions of calls to organize people to vote or volunteer or get active in this political campaign. Again, going back to the app, the app was like a device that is used for you to go out and talk to people and engage with people and share what you’re seeing and share why you support the campaign. Those are the little ways that we attempted to reach people who aren’t online.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So the app then I guess has talking points, you are able to use that almost as a guide to talk-

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
… to the other folks that aren’t online. Okay.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Now, you’re working in media, you’re a media producer, as you know, and as I’m sure our audience knows, between 2016 and now we have seen a proliferation of, what’s the best way to call it? Can I call it the smear campaign? I don’t know. But we’ve seen this proliferation of “fake news” and distrust in the media and we’ve seen lots of altered media, whether it’s Photoshopped images or even deep fake videos and stuff like that. What are your thoughts on the challenges of truth and veracity and media when it relates to that sort of stuff? With the public service sector because, I mean, now we see social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, trying to fight those kind of claims of misinformation. How does that stuff work in a campaign?

Samuel Adaramola:
I mean, fortunately, we haven’t had to deal with deep fakes of Senator Sanders out there. I think the onus is on people to be as media literate as possible. I think we can’t only rely on big social media companies, Twitter or Facebook or what have you, to take it upon themselves to do it. I mean, they should do it, absolutely, but we also have to make sure that we are as media literate as possible. Having the ability to identify a deep fake or to question and to evaluate and analyze the content that we’re consuming. But that’s a tall task, honestly, because as human beings we’re just predisposed to do what’s easiest and most convenient. And so, I think as in the campaign, I’m not sure how it manifests itself, but I think what we try to keep in mind is that we, to the best of our abilities, are sourcing material and sourcing facts. We constantly cross-reference with our policy team to make sure that everything that we are using and putting out is legitimate.

Samuel Adaramola:
I think that’s part of the process of tackling the misinformation. I think if we have presidential candidates running, that should be something that is constantly at a top of mind, just making sure that they’re not falling victim to these false claims and false facts that we see online. Hopefully, in the future, and I think we’re not too far away from this is, in future presidential campaigns that there are platforms, specific things that deal with disinformation and fake news, for lack of a better word. Because it’s been abundantly clear, like you mentioned, since 2016 that facts and reality is being under attack. Journalistic institutes are being under attack, so I think it’s something that we do need a leader with a vision to fully understand that, “Hey, these places, at least some of these sources, are our friends. Their job is to inform the public in a true manner.” So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Before we started recording, you asked me how I found out about you.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, I said I was going to wait till we got on the show before I mentioned this. Last year in September, which seems like 20 years ago at this point, just to be hones with you. It was like late September last year. I will tell the story. I was on Twitter under the Revision Path handle and I asked, “Are there any black designers or developers on any of the campaigns of the current candidates running to become the next U.S. president from either party? If this is you, let us know.” Because I was like, we’re going into January, 2020. I want to be able to talk to some black creatives that are on these individual staffs. I mean, September 2019, there were like 30 people running. It was like a bingo card on the Democratic side.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There was a ton of folks that were running, and so I was like, I reached out to every candidate multiple times or the candidate’s campaigns at least, reached out multiple times and we heard back from only one campaign. It wasn’t Bernie, I’m just going to be honest with you.

Samuel Adaramola:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
It was Beto O’Rourke. We heard back from Beto O’Rourke’s campaign and he was like, “Oh yeah, we’ll pass it on to the team.” Other than that, I couldn’t find anyone. And so, I said, “Well, let me just go on LinkedIn and just start searching for designer with the candidates name.” And so, I’m doing that for all of the … Had a spreadsheet, doing it for all the candidates. The only one, the only person I found was you with the Sanders campaign. This was back in September of 2019 when I said there were a lot of people running on both parties. That’s how I found out about you.

Samuel Adaramola:
Well, all right.

Maurice Cherry:
I say that to lead into my next question though. What is it like for you being a black creative working in politics with progressive organizations?

Samuel Adaramola:
I’m not the only one, fortunately, in the Bernie Sanders campaign. As far as the black creatives go, on my team in the videos, is a talented motion graphics designer. Her name is Bria, she’s on the team. A young black lady. There’s another on the design team, her name is Laura as well. There’s also Chris and [Sumarias 00:12:09]. We’re represented within the Bernie Sanders campaign in terms of black creatives. But as far as what it’s like to be a creative on the campaign, honestly I would say it’s like any other job but my more intense and a lot more is on the line. But, obviously, we are privileged in a sense to be there and serve as a voice to our communities. All black people aren’t the same, but when you have representation even from the top on down, it’s very important because it allows you to voice your opinion and perspectives that may not have been considered or of thought of before.

Samuel Adaramola:
So as it relates to what I’ve been doing on the campaign is that, when I am thinking of a video idea or creating some work in whatever capacity, I’m always thinking about, “Okay, how does this affect my community, black community and the black immigrant community too. Because I’m a first-generation Nigerian American, so I’m always thinking of these things in this way. How I create and how I birth ideas always has that frame of reference. I’m fortunate that there hasn’t been a lot of hurdles for me to be able to voice my ideas and my opinions and they have always been met with respect and consideration, so there isn’t really anything I could point to that’s much different from what anybody else would experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned being first-generation. Where did you grow up?

Samuel Adaramola:
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and was immigrated to America when I was two, so I was basically raised in America. But I was undocumented all of my life. Well, most of my adult life too. So I’ve been raised as American as Apple pies, people say, but not having documentation until I graduated from undergrad. So a lot of my time in America was living in the shadows, not really getting the opportunities that one would normally get as a citizen of the country. So yeah, it was particularly difficult. That’s how I actually got to becoming a designer. I’ve always had an interest in being creative. In high school and even middle school I would like … It’s funny when I think about this, I had a head start in creating for a political campaign because one of my best friends in elementary school ran for student president. I drew his campaign posters and I would always draw on clothing with fabric paint and I developed an affinity for creating. I didn’t find out my undocumented status until I was-

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh, I didn’t find out my undocumented status until I was graduating high school and wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have a social security number and I didn’t find out until I was applying. That’s how my world got flipped, turned upside down: not to quote Fresh Prince.

Samuel Adaramola:
But I was still able to go to school undergrad because of two things. One, my late mother, who was a permanent resident and she was on disability at the time, she was giving me some of her disability checks to go towards paying tuition. I’m not saying it like it was a lot, but it meant a lot to her because it was her only source of income. But I was taxed of doing is completing the rest of it and I did that with a group of my friends.

Samuel Adaramola:
I was deejaying in college and we would throw parties and one of my friends, he made a flyer for one of our first parties that we were going to go to throw, and it looked like something that came out of Coral Paint. It was just a terrible looking flyer. And I knew, like I mentioned, I was creative up to that point and I just knew I had a taste of what looked good and what didn’t. And literally, when I saw him do the flyer, I was like, “Nah, we could do better than this.” I went in our school library and I looked at YouTube tutorials of how to make flyers in Photoshop and nine hours later I had a Halloween party flyer that I was really proud of and stuck with it. That morphed into figuring out how to make logos and figuring out how to create different brand assets. I just hacked my way into learning design.

Samuel Adaramola:
When I graduated, because I got my undergrad in mass communications with a concentration in advertising and public relations, I graduated college without a portfolio like somebody who would have traditionally gone to school for design. But I had a portfolio of several party flyers and some logos that I made for student body organizations, so I thought I had a little something. I thought I was working with something. You couldn’t tell me nothing back then, but then you get humbled when you apply for jobs and you’re like, “Oh, so that’s what real design looks like.”

Samuel Adaramola:
But I eventually ended up working at an advertising agency in DC and my role wasn’t designed. My role wasn’t digital, my role was being a digital producer for the social media department. That’s just basically someone who project manages different projects for different clients. What that enabled me to discover was the process of creating with multiple creatives. Got to work with developers. I got to work with other designers. I got to work with copywriters. And I got to be someone who was tasked with managing the resources and the billable hours for everyone who was working on a specific client project.

Samuel Adaramola:
So, being able to sit in their room and meet with clients and have the ideation process of what they seek and desire, and actually see it through fruition by observing the creatives on the team there, it opened my eyes to, “Okay, I know I was doing all this stuff, making party flyers and doing all this knockoff stuff, but I’m in a room with people who have gone to school and did this stuff and super talented.” I knew then that, “Okay, I didn’t want to be the project manager of this stuff, I actually wanted to create. I wanted to be a designer.” There was only a few black people there at the time. Maybe still is, who knows? But it was myself and I think one other person. But the person that I want to bring up, her name is Kim Williams.

Samuel Adaramola:
I bring her up because she gave me the opportunity to go for it. I remember one day I came into work and she pulled me aside. We went into the room and she was like, “Hey, I noticed that you don’t seem like yourself or something slacking. What’s going on? There’s not too many black people here and I just want to make sure that we are holding each other up and doing what we can do to survive here.” I just opened up to her and said, “Hey Kim, I want to do what you’re doing.” She was the art director there at the time. I said, “I want to design. I want to be a part of the producing this creative stuff.” She said, “Then why don’t you do it?” And I was like, “Huh. I can, right?” But she was like, “You can do this. You can really do this. I have books. I have stuff that I can give you. You can just dedicate your time to learning this stuff and being creative and you can find yourself doing this work.” She bought me a Wacom tablet-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow!

Samuel Adaramola:
And she gave me some books and she just patted me on the back and sent me on my way. And I was like, “Wow!” And to this day, I can’t talk to anybody without mentioning her because that put me in a trajectory of where I am today. If I did not have that conversation with her, if she did not pull me aside as have that, “Come to Jesus black person to black person conversation,” I wouldn’t be here speaking with you right now and my career to that conversation and I appreciate her wisdom back then.

Samuel Adaramola:
So, I ended up leaving because of personal reasons that I had with my family, but I worked part-time at a nonprofit organization and then a dedicated the rest of my time to going ham with designing and figuring it out, taking on freelance gigs here and there just to get better. As a result, the portfolio I was able to put together from that time was what landed me at Our Revolution and being at Our Revolution is what landed me at being a part of a presidential campaign.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Samuel Adaramola:
So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a path.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, it is.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned Kim Williams, you were at Ogilvy when this happened, right?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I think we’ve had that same Kim Williams on the show. She for a while was design director at Indeed?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, she was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah! We had Kim on the show last year. Look at that, small world.

Samuel Adaramola:
Small world, big world.

Maurice Cherry:
Small world.

Maurice Cherry:
Was your family supportive of you going into this creative route? I can only imagine first-generation, they want you to go into something that’s more lucrative and more secure.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, absolutely. I’m blessed because my parents were… My dad is a hippie, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Samuel Adaramola:
I call him a Nigerian hippie because he’s traditional. He’s a traditional patriarchy type of figurehead, but he’s also into meditation and juicing and metaphysical stuff. He’s not your typical Nigerian man. I think for some immigrants, their experience are different. I think some people come in here with the idea of I’m coming to America to be the best XYZ. Other people say, “I’m coming to America to survive.” So, my parents were the survivors, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Samuel Adaramola:
My dad had many odd jobs. He was an ice-cream man at one point. He was an insurance salesman. He was a taxi driver. He was everything. So, his idea of success wasn’t really tied to being a doctor or a lawyer or engineer, which is what the stereotypical expectation is of a black immigrant child. His idea was just being happy. My mother, on the other hand, she was just more or less the same, just the idea of being happy.

Samuel Adaramola:
When I was in elementary school and in high school drawing on shirts and ruining my clothes and making new clothes out of old clothes, my mother says, “Yo, this looks good. Can you write some Bible scriptures on the shirt for me?” So they’ve been supportive in that sense. And I think because of… Another thing is that some people come to America with the understanding of how to navigate the immigration system and other people don’t because they’re just on survival mode. Again, my parents were under survival mode and that, unfortunately and somewhat fortunately, resulted in me being undocumented for most of my life. So, I don’t think my parents quite had time to worry about what I’m going to do with my life, but they always made sure that they provided for me.

Samuel Adaramola:
I always felt like I was a good kid. I knew I wanted to be creative or do something in some creative capacity, but I think I am a product of my environment. So having relatives and friends who belong to the black immigrant community and seeing that most people are in those traditional doctor, lawyer, engineer paths because of what their parents want for them, you do find that quite often. I do feel, at an earlier point in my life, felt pressured to fall in line. At one point I thought I was going to be an entertainment lawyer because that was my way of working in media and still having a respectable position. But I think what most immigrant parents and elders who come here, they just aren’t educated on how lucrative some of these careers can be.

Samuel Adaramola:
They may not know that you’re a developer or they may not know that you’re a designer or a media producer. They’re just not accustomed to it because all they know is that being a doctor is distinguishable and can earn you a high income. But also, somebody, even if it’s a doctor, someone had to design the tools that they’re using, somebody had to create the software that they’re inputting their patient information in. These positions are very valuable and I think it just takes people like me and other people who are in similar career paths or those untraditional paths to educate them on that. I think some people are coming around to that now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, well said, man. First of all, it’s great to know that your parents were really supportive of you being behind it. But I feel like that’s something that… and I’ve had hundreds of black designers on the show… I don’t think this is unique to black designers. But I think it is unique probably to people of color that are going into a creative field, is that unless there’s an example that they can see their parents or guardians can see of some type of financial success, then they’re like, “Okay, I’m good with this.” Because our parents grew up in a totally different environment, totally different.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
They had to go through a lot more struggles than we had to and they sacrificed to make sure that our generation wouldn’t have to have those sacrifices. And so, maybe being seen as going into a creative field like that, because they don’t see examples of success, they probably think the opposite right off the bat. Like, “Oh, you’re just going to be spray painting, airbrushing shirts at the fair,” or something like that. You know?

Samuel Adaramola:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I see how that could turn into something much more… necessarily say much more lucrative, but that you can take that creative skill and use it in a number of different applications.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, everybody’s needed. I think everybody can’t be a doctor. Everybody can’t be a lawyer. Everybody can’t be an engineer, but I think what you said is exactly right. I think when they have a hard time seeing the success of those untraditional paths, so it is like a trial by fire where you just got to do what you want until you just are successful and you’re like, “Hey mom and dad, I did it.” If you watch that Netflix movie Uncorked, it has that same feeling to it.

Maurice Cherry:
Don’t ruin it for me because I haven’t seen it yet.

Samuel Adaramola:
It’s really good.

Maurice Cherry:
I do want to see it.

Samuel Adaramola:
You got to watch it.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to watch it. I’m going to watch it.

Samuel Adaramola:
That’s also what I wanted to talk about, the dualities of the black identity. I think sometimes the black immigrants and black Americans or descendants of slaves were sometimes pitted against each other. And I think we can realize that we have similar experiences and we can learn to celebrate our differences, and that’s all I want to do with my life.

Samuel Adaramola:
Being raised in America and just being an immigrant, I always felt like I’m not quite American enough, but I’m also not quite Nigerian enough, so I’m just in this little box. And I’m like, “But I experience both things,” and I just wanted to mention that. It’s good to share our stories and be able to celebrate each other, whether it be a creative pursuit or not. It’s just good to know that we exist. I think our communities and the black community in general is that much better by having our stories told.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. So later on you mentioned going to Twoson? Am I saying that right?

Samuel Adaramola:
Towson, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Towson. Sorry. I’m looking at it like, “Is it Towson?” Okay, no. So, you mentioned going to Towson for undergrad, but then later on you went to Syracuse and you got your Master’s Degree in Communication and in Journalism. How does your journalism experience impact your design process?

Samuel Adaramola:
Well that…it’s new. I only graduated last fall.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Samuel Adaramola:
But in saying that is, I wanted to go to Syracuse and to do that program in particular to be a better storyteller. I think what my experience there has taught me is just how important it is to do your research right and to consider other things, like how data comes into play with how you tell your story, or how different technology and the media landscape changing can affect how you’re telling a story, and thoroughly understanding media law will affect how you tell your story.

Samuel Adaramola:
So unfortunately, I haven’t experienced enough in my current career that can inform what I do with my creative path. But I do, in going through the course and finishing it, it did open my eyes to just how deep storytelling can go, especially when you’re creating from a journalistic landscape. Because a fun project I did during my master’s was looking at the data of the black filmmakers, black directors, and black casting, looking at how they fared the last 30 years in terms of reaching the top 10 status. And how, although it may seem that we are represented in terms of the film industry, we are still having quite far some ways to go, especially with the fact that there has not been a female director who is black, who has reached top 10 highest grossing films. And there’s only…

Samuel Adaramola:
10 highest grossing films, and there’s only been one black filmmaker to do that, which was Ryan Coogler with Black Panther. So I think doing those projects, they helped me be curious about where are we now as a community and how much further do we have to go. As I think about projects and things that I want to do in the future, I know that having this education at Syracuse has given me a solid foundation in terms of understanding and learning how to navigate storytelling better in any aspects of creativity, whether it’s a film or or creating different designs or developing a website.

Maurice Cherry:
So when it comes to the visual storytelling, where do you typically try to begin the story?>

Samuel Adaramola:
I’m trying to pull from my experience at the campaign. For me is understanding the issues that are affecting the community. And I want to pull this North Carolina video again as an example because it’s probably one of the videos that I’m most proudest of that I was able to do in terms of visual storytelling. When I found out that this was what this community was going through, the first thing you want to do is research. And when you research it allows you to think of some pointed questions that you can ask the subject you’re interviewing. And that’s just the set up, because when you are going to film and interview someone, what they say could be completely different from what you expected. What you go in there thinking it’s going to be, the story ends up being something completely different. You may experience this doing the podcast, but I think when you are able to have all those elements come together, your research, the questions and the interview and the response, and you’re able to transcribe that and find a story, you can then find supplemental materials there. So I think it all begins with just doing enough research on the issue that you have at hand, and I think doing enough research, whether it’s even a video or a design, can steadily inform which way you go about creating.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re in the DC area, you mentioned being in Silver Springs, Maryland, but in the DMV area, outside of the work you’re doing with the campaign, what is the design scene or the creative scene like there for you?

Samuel Adaramola:
For me it’s everybody’s… I think DC is unsung, man. DC doesn’t get the love that it should. It’s a very, very creative town, a creative city, this DMV area, especially within the black community. I think people, if you go on IG, there is a sense of community. There is a sense of people actively creating. And this is another thing and I wanted to bring that up as it related to the conversation about career paths and what’s distinguished and what isn’t. You still find that people who are engineers, their side hustle is that they paint or that they bake cookies or that day design shoes or have a fashion brand and you find a lot of that in the DMV area, especially within the black community that they have.

Samuel Adaramola:
It’s like they live a double life. They have their nine to five, I’m going to clock in and clock out at my engineer job. But as soon as they’re out, they’re out being creative and hustling and bustling. So I think you do find a lot of that in DC where people have that dual identity in terms of being a creative and being someone who’s has, I guess, a distinguished career in engineering or so. And you also have like… I think me being here, this is a very rich African immigrant community, and being raised in that environment, I’ve always felt comfortable being around here and… From churches to little grocery shops to even now venues and clubs that are owned by Africans. You see that community also as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days? These are some interesting times that we’re in right now. You’re also working for a political campaign, which is always full of ups and downs in the campaign. I don’t care where you’re at in terms of rankings or whatnot. What keeps you inspired, motivated these days?

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh man, it’s tough these days, man. Things just seem so dreary and we don’t see a way out right now, but I just look back at my past and the nature of how I got to this country and how I am able to be where I am now despite the obstacles that faced me with my immigration status or what have you. And I look at my father and my late mother and the things that they were able to do to provide for me with the little that they have. What keeps me inspired is knowing that I have the opportunity to build generational wealth, and I’m not just talking about wealth financially. I’m talking about wealth with knowledge, the first one with my Adaramola last name, to have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. So that is legacy. That is wealth to me.

Samuel Adaramola:
And when I think about the future that I want to have for my future kids and my future wife, I think about that and to be able to say, “Hey, I’ve had these experiences while taking a path that wasn’t traditional or or easy,” is what keeps me motivated. I want to do so much and I’m grateful to have this experience in the campaign because I’ve learned so much and what I’m going to be able to take in the future is exciting and what I want to build for my legacy and the community for black people in general, to share the stories and to have more people, to be able to say, “Hey, that’s somebody that looks like me that’s representing a different sector or telling stories that are nuanced in a way that haven’t been told enough because people think all black people are the same.”

Samuel Adaramola:
So when I think about all of those things together, my history, my path, and what I want to create for the community, that definitely keeps me motivated, especially in these down times where everyone’s just sitting at home and it just seems it’s Groundhog’s Day, the movie, where you’re just repeating the day over and over and over and over and over again. I look at the books on my bookshelf and say, “Hey, I haven’t read that book. Maybe I can learn something about it.” You know what I’m saying? And have that experience of reading the book inform how I want to create in the future. So little things like that will keep me motivated. And just honestly, people like you, Maurice, people who are out there creating and seeking out the stories even when people weren’t trying to tell you what black designers are in the campaign, you went and saw it yourself.

Samuel Adaramola:
I mean honestly just knowing that people are creating their own platforms. And when I see people who are doing things that I want to do or are somewhat adjacent, I don’t get jealous. I get inspired. Man, that was tight. Let me see if I can do it better. So just the creative community, the black creative community as a whole just always motivates me, and I just want to always see us win no matter if you’re a black immigrant or you’re born and raised in the South or wherever you’re from. I think black people, when we learn that we can create more and create together, I think it’ll be a phenomenal thing and definitely something to keep me motivated and inspired.

Maurice Cherry:
Amen to that. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025, hopefully all of his pandemic mess is a faint memory behind us, but what kind of work do you see yourself doing in the next five years?

Samuel Adaramola:
Honestly, man, I’m working towards this right now, I want to have my own media company and I want to be able to use that media company to tell black stories in new and unique ways that are informed by my experiences of being raised in America as a black immigrant and bridging the gap between black identities. I want to do that work, whether it’s through video or audio storytelling with podcasts, but just continue to contribute to the zeitgeist of black creatives and continue to offer something new and to create more room at the table for different kinds of black creativity. So in the next five years, I want to spread that good juju to the world and be working for myself and employing other black creatives, other creatives of color to lead that legacy of telling unique nuanced stories of the black community.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, well just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, I’m fairly active on Twitter. My handle is samoriginals, one word, S-A-M-O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L-S, and it’s the same with Instagram. I’m not as active on Instagram, but you’ll see me there, and you know my website, samadaramola.com. Just look out, I’m working on some things in the future and yeah, if you are politically activated, vote, make sure you vote, make sure your voice is heard and make sure you’re registered because we don’t want another pandemic that is mishandled.

Maurice Cherry:
Listen, I know this is a design podcast and I don’t mean to get political, but for y’all that are listening, if the last three months have not shown you how important it is to get out and have your voice heard in terms of the future of this country, I don’t know what will. I don’t know what celebrity needs to dance a jig in the streets or whatever to get you to get out there and vote, but it is necessary. Just look at what the last three months have been like in this country, and you should go vote. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying.

Samuel Adaramola:
Not just in 2020, too. Every two years you got to put that in action. Just vote, be active in your communities. The situations have always been worse for for black people even before the pandemic, and this pandemic is just going to further exasperate the disparities that we have in this country. So get active. Like Bernie says, never lose your sense of outrage. Don’t lose it. All we have is our life on the line, so just get active, get informed. Still create, but don’t lose your sense of outrage.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well Samuel Adaramola, thank you so much for coming on the show. Again, I know we are recording this during very trying times right now that we’re all going through in this country, but I think just your message and your drive and really just your enthusiasm for making sure that you’re telling stories is something that we need now more than ever, whether it’s on a political campaign or not, just people that are out there that can show, not just how different we are, but also how we’re very much the same in many ways is really important, and I’m really going to be excited to see what you do next. I feel this is just the start for you, for whatever next is going to be coming big.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh man, thanks so much.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. Thank you for having me, Maurice, and I look forward to hearing myself. All right, take care.

Sponsors

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We’re kicking off 2019 in Berlin! Meet Abimbola Idowu, a software engineer for SAP, one of the largest tech companies in Europe. Abimbola may be fairly new to Berlin, but he’s already making his mark and spends his spare time cycling and exploring the city with his family.

Our conversation began with a walk through a typical day for Abimbola at SAP, and from there, he shared how he first learned about software development, and how he went to hone his skills through Andela. We also discussed the transition in culture from Lagos to Berlin, and he talked about some of the current opportunities for tech in Nigeria and the goals he has for 2019. Abimbola says that you should never doubt yourself, and I think that’s a great mindset to adopt for the year.


Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
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We’re closing out the year here on Revision Path with artist and technologist Omayeli Arenyeka. I first learned about her work when she wrote into Revision Path earlier this year, and then we crossed paths again when I started covering her creative tech projects on Glitch. So in a way, this interview is a bit of a full circle moment!

We started off talking about her current engineering work at LinkedIn, and then she shared how she first learned about Glitch and what drew her to the platform. Yeli also gave a talk recently at XOXO about the “creative saviour complex”, so she went into the inspiration behind that presentation and discussed who and what fuels her work. I really think she’s going to be someone to watch in 2019, so make sure you check out her work and follow her journey!


Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
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Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by Mailchimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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I’ve had my eye on Chikezie Ejiasi and his work since we profiled him for 28 Days of the Web back in 2015. Fast forward to now, and Chikezie is working as a senior interaction designer at Google on their new Daydream VR platform.

We had a lot to talk about! He shared information about Daydream and why virtual reality is becoming so popular right now, his “anti-conference” stance, and how not following a traditional design path helped set him up for success today. It’s a great conversation that I’m sure you’re going to enjoy!

(Thanks to one of our patrons, Nate Koechley, for the introduction!)


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
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Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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