“I used to be told that my poems were not seen as political or dealing with urgency because I talked about women and personal histories” – #LLA Interview With Wana Udobang, a writer, poet, performer, and storyteller.

Wana Udobang

Wana Udobang is a writer, poet, performer, and storyteller between Lagos and London. She released three spoken-word albums titled Dirty Laundry, In Memory of Forgetting, and Transcendence. Her work as a performer has taken her across Africa, Europe, and the US, along with working on commissions for Edinburgh International Festival and Deutsches Museum in Germany. In 2021 she was awarded the International Writing programme residency at the University of IOWA.

Wana Udobang has a background in journalism, working as a freelancer with the Guardian, Aljazeera, CNN, and Observer as well as producing and presenting documentaries for BBC Radio4 and BBC World Service. For over six years, she worked as a popular radio host at 92.3 Inspiration FM in Lagos, broadcasting to over five million listeners daily. Her work in film includes the documentaries Sensitive Skin, Warriors, and Nylon.

Wana Udobang also runs The Comfort Food poetry workshop, which uses memories around food as a conduit to create new poems. She also curates Culture Diaries, an archival project which uses multi-platform storytelling to document African artists. Added to her creative work, Wana is a speaker, teacher, workshop facilitator, and creative consultant. She loves travelling, food, wine, art, and adventure.

Leading Ladies Africa: Who is Wana Udobang, and what does she do?

Wana Udobang: Hi, I’m Wana, a multi-disciplinary storyteller working at the intersection of writing, poetry, performance, and film. I also curate projects and consult for creative organisations and art institutions.

My performance work has taken me across Africa, Europe, and North America. I run The Comfort Food poetry workshop, which uses memories around food as a conduit to create poems that become recipes for joy.

I have a background in journalism, with my work appearing on the BBC, Aljazeera, The Guardian, Observer, and CNN. I have also produced and presented audio documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. I also curate Culture Diaries, an archival project which uses multi-platform storytelling to document African artists.

 

Leading Ladies Africa: Let’s talk about the mixed media installation you’re launching on 28th of April, — Can you tell us how it all began?

Wana Udobang: The idea came from my debut poetry album, an autobiographical work or memoir of the same name that I released in 2013. The album explored some recurring themes present in this installation, such as issues around womanhood, sexual and gender violence, feminine agency, healing, and re-imagination.

The use of the words “hanging,” “dirty,” and “laundry” are deliberate metaphors taken from the phrase “hanging your dirty laundry in public.” As we all know, this phrase is generally associated with shame, but I subvertedly wanted to create a platform where people can freely have difficult discussions.

I wanted the core of this presentation to be about using the power of words to cut through the silence and shame women carry from experiences often inflicted by society.

Leading Ladies Africa: Tell us why we should come for your event? Give us a sneak peak

Wana Udobang: If you are a follower of my work, it would be a new way to experience the work, and if you are new to my work again, it will be an exciting way to experience poetry. But mostly, the poems are speaking to a lot of the themes that many women grapple with and how we exist in the domestic and public space. I think this installation is a site of introspection, interrogation, and discourse and hopefully will also become a transformative experience for the viewer. The space is immersive, it demands your time and attention, and I know it will be worth your while.

 

Leading Ladies Africa: As a performer and a poet, have you ever had to deal with gender discrimination? 

Wana Udobang: Like most women, in every aspect of your life and work, you are discriminated against in obvious or subtle ways. I used to be told that my poems were not seen as political or hard or dealing with urgency or even serious because I talked about women and personal histories. Nothing is more political than the personal. We as human beings are the embodiment of systems and structures, and when those systems break down or exert their violence, they fall on our bodies. What could be much more complicated, more political, and more urgent than our experience, histories, and stories. 

Leading Ladies Africa: How did you handle that?

Wana Udobang: I continue to speak up for the things I believe in and continue to live a life of authenticity and honesty. That’s how I have handled discrimination in the past. I don’t shrink, and I also don’t live in reaction to its oppression.

Leading Ladies Africa: Let’s ask what might seem like a weird question — Tell us something about you we won’t find on the internet?

Wana Udobang: I cry at award speeches. It’s such a weird thing. I think I am just always joyful when people get something they desire. It also feels like a celebration of their resilience and not giving up.

Leading Ladies Africa: Final words to women who want to go into this industry and women in our community?

Wana Udobang: You are enough. Keep learning, keep growing, start with whatever you have, collaborate with your peers, remember to enjoy the journey, and choose progress over perfection. Always define success for yourself and reevaluate it as you evolve.

Finally, there is no gate, no keeper, no key… go for everything that you desire.

 

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