And So It Begins – Two-Year Fellowship At The University of Arts, Berlin

Founder’s Note / May. 16th, 2021

And So It Begins

In the same year I lost my mom, I had made it clear how much I didn’t like formal structures, didn’t like educational structures, didn’t enjoy school, and my mother – who I assume knew were my heart was headed – one day took me aside and spoke to me about how hard life generally was and had me promise her that I would at least get a university degree. At that point, I didn’t even know that all I was saying then meant that I didn’t want to go to a university. So not knowing what life was bringing, I begrudgingly promised. Months later, she died. I held that conversation for a long time as the excuse for trying to go through university, until I just couldn’t anymore and there was life!

One semester to my fourth/final year and a few extra papers that would follow me from my 3rd year into the 4th, I was sure that I would graduate with a pass or something, lol. I started recalling the mischief I did in my first year in the university; shit that first years are not even imagined to do. I instantly became a top political participant, dealing, meeting and strategising with seniors, most of whom were in their final year. I fit right in. I also remembered the many events I helped put together, that included travel experiences for students going across some parts of West Africa. We did that for two years back to back. I also recall my many travels throughout the country as a road manager for models, an equipment loader for shows, a stage manager. Anything I could possibly do, I did. I became a fly on the wall in studios, music sessions. I did it all, and there was still school.

Since my last year in primary school, I have had problems with the way schools are structured. At least in Benin City where I lived most of my life until it was time to physically move, I was never a fan of junior or senior secondary either. Those were the times when I had so much free time that I started thinking, “Who am I?”, “What do I like?”, “Who do I want to be?” and “What are my fucking goals?”

At the point when I was thinking about my next step, I already knew I loved speaking, strategising, creating fun experiences, and creating impactful projects. I also knew that all I wanted to be wasn’t going to be given to me by a university. I just had a gut feeling that it was time to stop playing around those university walls, and not waste an extra year balancing life on the road, in Lagos and in Uniben (my university). It was time to make the one move that no one around me thought was smart. I had to drop out and face my destiny head on.

My dad – who still feels that the only way a creative person can level up is by getting formal education (and this man is arguably the most creative person I know, arguably my biggest creative inspiration) – never stops with dope ideas. He is always dreaming, but on this one he just couldn’t dream it. He felt I was creatively an explosive mind, but felt that I needed a safety net. To him, that safety net was formal education. I didn’t blame him for not understanding me, and I still don’t. My sister didn’t speak much about it but I remember her saying, “I don’t know how somebody decides that they don’t want to continue with something when they have already done the hardest part”, which to her were the first three years of a four-year education. My only answer to her was that the first two years offered me the opportunity to meet great people, and this improved my people and survival skills. In my third year, I spent more than 80% of my time outside Benin City and was the happiest for it. Still, my sister felt I could figure it out and she thought I should just do it. And then came my eldest brother, Cosmos, who told me straight to my face, “Don’t make the mistakes I made”. He always felt that I was crazy, and he didn’t fully understand me. I remember even after I moved to Lagos where he was based, and whenever we met up, he would always ask me if I ever thought about completing my education. For the first few years, I could easily go back and continue but I just didn’t have it in me to go back to something I didn’t like. Then my other brother (I have to give credit to him – even though he and my dad were the ones who pressured me with going back to get my certificate the most, still talked to me about figuring out a way to get my certificate. He was present in my other endeavours. He was supportive, always letting me know how aware he was about the ways in which I was navigating life. And then, he did add, “If you just add a certificate to all this dopeness, it would be over the moon”. These few references are important because these people have experienced me the closest since I came into this world, and I know they love me in their own way. Every single person mentioned, after all is said, still gave me their full support.

A few years later after it was becoming comfortable for us all to share the same space and not have an intense conversation about me going back to get my degree, I broke it to my family, I told them that I was going to take my ideas, my practice, my way of life into academia at some point in my practice. They were appalled, “How dare you!”. LOL, “So, we were right all this time, because you can never become a lecturer, professor without a first degree, masters or a PhD”.Their frustrations I fully understood, because we have an uncle, who is now a professor but who at that time was fighting the educational system. My family preferred this approach. “It’s even hard for those with the best results. Why do you think you can do this without following the rules?”. I told them that I would figure it out, and that my practice was going to be enough by the time I began the journey into academia. I have always believed that philosophers and practitioners who were self-taught or learnt from apprenticeships were the foundation of formal education.

So I took baby steps; I organised workshops, one-on-one coaching sessions, and became an open resource for anyone who needed a guide or support in my field. The internet has been my number 2 teacher. My curiosity is number 1. The internet gave me a huge amount of resources, and made me dream, my constantly evolving community of creatives. I could design an entire tour for a band in my head and on paper, and never get to meet them or even send the plan out. My benchmark, however, was way bigger than Benin City or even Lagos. My scope has been broader than my immediate environment for a while now.

Let me not bore you with the sacrifice, the work, the training, the discipline, the support and all it took for me to remain an independent practitioner forging a sense of identity within my thought pattern and general practice. And it all came down to 2018. I had completely slowed down my speeding train to revise the next steps I was about to take in life. I got married to the most amazing human, and then it hit me. It was time to champion the practice that I had been cultivating my entire life. I told my family and my closest friends that, in the coming years, I was going to begin the part of me that ventured into academia as a practitioner. In my head, I needed five more years to set things in motion and I could see the look on every single person’s face – confused, excited, happy. They had experienced me living against all odds, so I knew they believed in me but they just didn’t know how the hell I was going to pull it all off. Billie (my life partner) was the exception. She never questioned me, never had a face of doubt, and always reassured me that she had seen me flip things that seemed unflippable. “So, how do you want to go about this?”, was her only question.

You can imagine all the emotions that traversed my spirit as I heard the news right in front of Billie. I called every single person in my immediate family and my close friends to let them know that I had been granted a fully-funded research fellowship by the University of Art, Berlin, a fellowship ordinarily given to people with a masters degree and here I come with just my practice as equivalent making way for new possibilities.

It was magical! It has been magical from day one to now, and I just can’t wait to begin this dream journey that I have had as a kid – to be an educator, researcher, all round creative and to keep giving from my direct experience. I hope this makes my mother and father smile. I hope my siblings and friends are assured that I might be crazy, but crazy is good! I got you (LOL). I hope I have shown you people that there are so many ways to make soup or jollof.

This journey is just beginning. Find attached my official letters from the university. Also attached is my letter, which I read as a performance for my panel presentation.

A special thank you to those who helped me in the seven-month-long application process Billie McTernan, Marshall Van Valen, Kobina Ankomah-Graham and all who helped along the way.

Vim. No Limit.

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