Things To Do: A Cultural Guide By Chinasa Chukwu
A note from team BASE: These are unprecedented times and as we all try to adapt and adjust our lives in this strange new world, isolating ourselves from friends and family during the festive period it is important now more than ever for us to stay connected.
Over the past year, we have been publishing a series of weekly to-do lists, curated by some of our friends, industry insiders and community. In which they have shared their recommendations of things to read, listen to and watch helping to keep your minds occupied, your bodies healthy and your souls energised. Whether you’re practising social-distancing or having to self-isolate we hope these recommendations will offer little nuggets of cultural escapism and spark a little joy.
Our latest cultural guide is curated by the multi-talented, London based British Nigerian Fashion Designer and Creative Director Chinasa Chukwu. Chinasa launched her fashion label Werzuo in 2015 and later went on to create the cultural journal Postscript which she co-founded with her friend Elvira Vedelago. Werzuo has recently re-launched as a lifestyle brand “embodying an ongoing creative collaboration with African cultural and craft histories. At its core is a commitment to working with artisans to not only produce beautiful objects but to preserve the history that inspires them and the craftsmanship used to make them.”
Here, she shares with us the things that inspire her, the music she’s listening to, her tips for a good nights sleep, what will be on her table for Christmas dinner and the gifts that are on her wish list.
WHAT music are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to a lot of Ayoni, the huskiness in her voice combined with her lyrics means that every song is so rich to listen to. I can’t wait to see her live. We have a bi-monthly playlist over on our Weruzo instagram curated by inspiring, creative women, so I tend to have those on repeat because they are so good. My playlist is currently a mix of Alté Afrobeats and 70’s highlife as well as a lot of FINNEAS and Maggie Rogers. Maggie Rogers is so lovely to listen to because you can hear all the influences from her background in the instruments and arrangements.
What PODCASTS are you listening to?
I listen to podcasts sporadically, so I don’t follow any of them religiously but I’ve recently started listening to Ester Perel’s podcast How’s Work?
And I’ve been surprised by the openness of the individuals but also taken by Ester’s ability to hold up a mirror to people without judgment. It’s a podcast about work relationships that feels like a podcast about romantic relationships where the listener (you and I) gets to sit in on a therapy session.
The conversations have the same types of vulnerability and complexity you find in romantic therapy sessions because when it comes down to it, in a partnership, you’re facing the same issues and often have the same concerns tied up in your relationship I.e. your income, working patterns and communication etc which affect your family and livelihood.
My favourite episode is still the first one called The Break-Up because the two men come from jobs that traditionally encourage men to be silent and reserved and in some cases encourage tropes of toxic masculinity but the men are so willing to meet each other openly and lay their feelings on the table.
What are you currently READING?
I am currently reading ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ by Ocean Vuong and ‘Travelling While Black’ by Nanjala Nyabola. Ocean’s is written in the form of a letter to his mother and part of it retells her life story and that of her mother (his grandmother), it’s a heartbreak in written form for me but also so life affirming because I recognise some of his disconnections in my own life.
‘Travelling While Black’ is a collection of essays exploring some of the experiences black people and in particular women face while travelling the world. Some of those experiences are less than ideal but Nanjala’s writing style is easily the most entertaining for me. I love the way she dissects each type of experience and the layers that go into forming them. She also highlights the advantages we have in some spaces as black women and how our blackness also gives us the ability to have more authentic experiences in certain places (mostly other black countries we are not native to) when compared to our non-black counterparts.
Finally, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, which is a poignant look at living fully while accepting death is imminent. The writer was a surgeon and he brought that precision to his writing, cutting through the chaos of our feelings to get to the core of each discontent we struggle with while trying to figure life out. One of my favourite quotes is “The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win”. He is referring to being a surgeon but for me it just lays out the whole conflict of being alive.
He points out that in many ways death is imminent for all of us, we could be dying today or in 50 years and not know either way, so we need to devote our lives to savouring each moment, mundane or spectacular. He was a second generation immigrant, so again, a lot of his childhood experiences were reminiscent of mine. I laughed when reading a section where he describes his mother printing out a list of the 50 greatest books ever written and telling him to read them all. My parents didn’t do that but it reminded me of my dad and the methodical approach to striving for excellence.
I’m in love with all of them for different reasons so I’d recommend them. But that’s nothing new, I fall in love with books all the time.
HOW do you keep yourself fit and healthy?
It’s always been long walks while listening to music or having a deep talk with someone over HIIT or gyms for me. I always feel like an animal in a zoo at the gym. Also, I just respond better to the slow constant rhythm of walks than intense short bursts of HIIT workouts which is funny because I used to be a competitive sprinter. Occasionally, I’ll go to a yoga class and I really enjoy a long stretching session in the mornings to get me going for the day.
I’ve started taking movement ‘snacks’ during the day, which is when I’ll get up and walk around a little or do a little dance, just to get my body moving after sitting for a while.
RUNNING a business can be intense especially during a pandemic, how are you looking after after yourself mentally and emotionally?
I’ve rediscovered sleep! That’s actually what I would say is the main way I’m looking after myself. I’ve started prioritising sleep and trying to work my schedule around making sure I’m getting enough sleep. I’m going to ruin it by saying that enough sleep for me is around 7 hours not 8 – but prioritising it most of the time has made such a huge difference in my mental and emotional health and how I am able to cope with daily stresses of running a business.
It doesn’t always work because some days/weeks are longer than others but in general I’m making more of an effort with it. Prior to the pandemic sleep was an afterthought and something to do once my body was exhausted but now getting ready for bed is something I really enjoy. I do my night time routine which takes about 15 minutes and helps me relax mentally and then I listen to some ASMR and I’m out like a light.
WHAT foods are always in your fridge especially around Christmas?
I’m not a big eater so I’m the worst person to ask but we always have turkey at Christmas. Our Christmas meal has slightly more Nigerian accoutrements than British ones, so we have the Jollof rice, fried rice, fried fish and spicy stewed gizzards and then the vegetables, brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus and parsnips. It’s a little eclectic but we love it. We also have a pot of mulled wine on the go through the season.
WHAT are your sources of inspiration?
Inspiration is such a nebulous thing to categorise for me. I get inspiration from a quote in a book, or the edge of a photograph or even a snippet of a conversation, so I’m not sure how to describe it. However, I am leaning into a lot of archival photographs and text of African histories. I’m learning about stories and artistry that is much less written about in the mainstream. A lot of it is through books such as An African Lookbook by Catherine McKinley and online archives like Culture Art Society and JSTOR where I can access a lot of academic texts.
I’m also really inspired by the work of Black women artists in all mediums like Velma Rosai-Makhandia, Aleasha Harris, anaiis, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye– the list goes on. There’s a spirit that flows through all the work for me, an emotional through line. It’s teaching me to be a bit more free with my own work and that living while creating the work can be what feeds it rather than any rigid ideas of process.
Finally, I find a lot of crossover with inspiration in film and sculpture. I think directors and sculptors are very similar because they have to be so singular in their vision. Whenever I want to be awed or re-inspired I go back to films and sculptures I love such as works by Alexandre Noll and Arrival directed by Denis Villenueve and I feel much more energised in my work. I’m a storyteller at heart so I’d love to tell stories through both mediums someday, like directing a short and/or creating much large sculptural pieces but I’m not there yet. I’m closer with sculpture because Weruzo feels like a collection of mini sculptures but film is further away.
What are your at home luxuries that are making you HAPPY?
Incense instantly warms up a room for me so it’s definitely one of my at home luxuries. Right now my favourite scent is Solaris from One Iron Aut, it has a smoky oud scent which fills up a space without being overwhelming which I love.
Listening to music on my record player makes me feel centred and calm in the mornings, so I love to wake up and put a record on first thing. I’m listening to Jacob Banks’ Village right now which has the perfect tones for me to ease into the day. It’s a little melancholy but it works for me.
What was the last THING you bought and loved?
Christmas presents for other people. They are just little things but I love giving gifts so I’m looking forward to seeing each persons reaction when they open their presents.
For myself – I bought my new diary for 2022, it’s still pristine and full of possibilities for the new year. I’m looking forward to filling it right up.
What was the last thing you GIFTED?
One of my close friends just bought a house with her partner so I gifted her a Baté piece from Weruzo. She’s always been so supportive of my work so I was really happy to be able to gift her a piece for her new space. She’s been sending me photos which make my heart happy.
What was the BEST gift that you’ve received recently?
I’ve been collecting books since I was about 8 and I write my name in each book along with the year I acquired it. This year for my birthday my siblings got me a bespoke stamp so I can stamp my name in my books instead of writing it out each time. I felt very seen for the nerd I am.
What is on your WISH list?
Somaya Critchlow: Paintings. It’s pretty self explanatory, the book is a collection of her paintings and images from her sketchbooks accompanied by an essay by Amanda Renshaw. I recently discovered the hardbound edition for Moonlight’s screenplay and I really want a copy to commemorate the film and how much I love watching it.
African Ceramics: A different Perspective by Kim Bagley and Stefan Eisenhofer. It’s a collection of works from African ceramicists that are often overlooked and definitely not collected together in a single publication and I’d love to commission a piece from Ojo Aji, a Canadian visual artist. Her work is so striking and really captures the essence of her subjects.
DO you have any cultural recommendations?
I love taking exhibition days and tend to do them with my friend Elvira. We’ll take a day to visit galleries and wander through art shows stopping for lunch (and sometimes dinner) it’s a lovely way to spend a day. It’s also really inspiring to experience other creative work and visions.
I just arrived in Nigeria for a work trip and the holidays so I’ve got tickets to a concert by The Cavemen here in Abuja. I discovered them during lockdown and I haven’t stopped listening to them since. I’m not sure what genre they are but I’ve got them on repeat.
But a few exhibitions on my list as soon as I’m back in London are:
Shilpa Gupta, Sun at Night at The Barbican – Shilpa’s exhibition explores questions of censorship, resistance and belonging through the lens of language. It’s an immersive installation involving soundscapes which I always love because it really places you within the exhibition rather than just an observer.
Kehinde Wiley, The Prelude at the National Gallery —- I saw In Search of the Miraculous in 2018 and felt very moved by the intensity and scale of his work. The Prelude is a different body of work and mood but I’m looking forward to being equally affected by his exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon, I’ve spent the past two years researching African artisan pottery and ceramics which are all based in clay and being disappointed by how little is documented of their histories, so I’m excited to see this exhibition which takes a more expansive look at the history of clay and ceramic objects as well as the political nuances therein.