BY ERIN WALSH
Meet Oge Egbuonu, producer, director, activist, creative visionary. EW spoke with Oge about her directorial debut (In)Visible Portraits, her role in these trembling times, and being a part of real change including at a local community level, re-educating ourselves on a daily basis, and leading a life where every element is unified and aligned in intent. Oge is an exemplary force, and SBJCT is honored to feature her. Read on below…
TOP AND PANTS Aliette SHOES Haiki EARRINGS Lola & Ade EAR CUFF Jennifer Fisher BRACELETS Almasika LEFT HAND GOLD BRACELET Jennifer Fisher
DRESS Georges Hobeika EARRINGS Stella & Haas CUFF WITH JEWEL Harwell Godfrey 2 THIN SOLID GOLD CUFFS Almasika
Erin Walsh Dear Oge, Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! I am so taken with all the work you are doing and managing in the current state of things to continue to inspire us. Let’s get into it with the Levi’s campaign that you just launched with Hailey Beiber, the #USEYOURVOICE campaign that is set to get out the vote… I love that you were able to partner with a giant, iconic American brand to do this. People can get so cynical about big brands, but when you harness it in the right way, it’s so monumental…
Oge Egbuonu Agreed! Harnessing relationships with big brands that are in alignment with one’s values can be a very inspiring experience. One of the mediums that I want to continue to engage in is merging fashion with my storytelling. So it’s been incredible to partner with Levi’s in this capacity, especially since I worked with them when I was in college for a few years… so to be able to partner with them decades later, is a full circle moment!
EW You quoted John Lewis in saying,“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.” Tell me a bit about your work to get out the vote and where you are at right now…
OE I think voting is very, very important, but it’s just a tool in our toolbox. This is currently the most powerful and most important election season to date. So much is at stake. I urge people to activate their voices with their vote but also start to educate themselves on what is it that they want in a democracy and how to become active citizens. So that means attending community meetings, learning about your city’s budget, and reading more books and doing more research on how to dismantle these oppressive systems that we have been conditioned to live under. We have to make sure that we’re creating a society that is fair and just and not one that justifies oppression and the murder of Black and Brown people.
LOOK Abodi SHOES Haiki EARRINGS Stella & Haas EARCUFF Jennifer Fisher
EW Let’s tie those together for those reading this who may be trying to harness their own power and perhaps build their own toolbox… You are an artist who is actively producing resources on the subject, so what are some of your favorite resources to inform and educate yourself?
OE The biggest thing has been learning about local organizations that are fighting for causes that serve us all and just reading. Educating myself and unlearning all the ways I have been conditioned to shrink myself. It’s about getting involved in my community, changing it on a local level… People tend to see only the bigger picture, which is, say, the election of a president. But I think that it’s really, really important that we don’t ignore our local elections and that we stay active locally.
EW What have you been reading lately that you have found to be very helpful or insightful?
OE One of the books that I’ve read multiple times that I’m re-reading now is Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy. It is a very powerful book that addresses the residual impacts of generations of slavery and opens up the discussion of how the Black community can use the strengths we have gained in the past to heal the present. Also, I am reading The Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble, Brene Brown and James Baldwin- Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time…
we must give ourselves permission to actually be in the moment
EW I love that you mention James Baldwin, I have always found reading his work to be a very visceral experience that you feel in your body. You have a background in physicality including restorative yoga- is reading Baldwin like that for you? Or reading in general? Like that you are connecting with your whole self somehow in the written word?
OE Yeah. I mean, everything I read I feel it is on a holistic level. I give it my full attention, and I think it takes that. So whenever I’m reading any book, I’m giving my whole self to that book in that particular moment, so that I’m able to take it in on a spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical level. I think that’s important. When we are reading books we must give ourselves permission to actually be in the moment and take that knowledge somewhere.
TOP AND PANT Aliette EARRINGS Lola & Ade
DRESS Georges Hobeika EARRINGS White Space SHOES Haiki
EW I would love if you could just tell us a little bit about this journey that brought you to LA…
OE I grew up in Houston, Texas in a single parent home. My mother worked multiple jobs in order to take care of me and my two brothers. For quite a while, I was on this trajectory to become a doctor, because in the Nigerian culture, these classic vocations like doctor or lawyer are the epitome of success. Yet deep down, I knew neither of those careers was truly what I was meant to contribute too, but I always knew that I would impact this world in a very powerful way- I just didn’t know how. It took years, but I started to realize that it would not be through the framework of what others deemed to be ‘successful’. It just didn’t feel right to me; Didn’t feel like it was in alignment. After college, I struggled. I struggled to find myself and as a result I worked in retail and ended up in LA but quit 6 months in because I could not work with a company that was so clearly not in alignment with my values and my morals. I was 27 years old, and didn’t know anyone. I was lost, wounded, and just so confused. Then I was introduced to yoga through a friend, and the very first class I thought, “this is not it for me”. But then another friend introduced me to restorative yoga and I fell in love with it. I became obsessed, taking classes multiple times a week, just immersing myself into the practice, and as a result decided to become certified. I remember thinking, “This is it. This is how I’m going to impact the world. I’m going to teach people how to heal themselves.” Eventually, though, one of my private clients offered me an opportunity with his production company and after much convincing from friends and family, I decided to take the offer and ended up moving to London and that’s what started my career in the entertainment industry. First as an assistant at Raindog Films and then a creative executive and then I became an Associate producer… we made incredible films!
EW It sounds like you just had this awakening, first with your body and then your soul and your mind…
OE Yoga really was the turning point for me, it really opened me up in a very spiritual and emotional level. I started to connect with the idea that all things are possible and that if I did the inner work of being in alignment and rediscovering my innate worth, that success would be inevitable. It opened my eyes to the idea that I’m limitless and that I have the power to co-create my life. We all do, We’ve just been so conditioned to forget that.
EW That is so beautiful. Do you ever feel disconnected from this idea? What do you do if you do? I totally relate to the idea of wanting to engage with the world and our highest selves, but I know it doesn’t always feel easy…
OE Oh, yeah, absolutely. I feel disconnected when I am not in my spiritual practice (whether that is meditating, breathwork, or prayer) or when I think that the answers are outside of me, so whenever that happens, I find my way back to my practice. It’s what keeps me grounded, you know? Life is a process and I have to be patient with the unfoldment of it and trust that through the ebbs, I will eventually find my way back to the flow.
LOOK Andrea Iyamah EARRINGS White Space
EW Can you tell me about Invisible Portraits and how the film came about?
OE After I moved back to LA, I was wondering if I had made the right choice, if it was the right move, and if was I doing the right thing by leaving this company. Then, a friend connected me to producer Michael Meyer (who became my investor for this film), who pitched me the idea about wanting to create something that celebrated Black Mothers. But I felt it was more important to say something about Black women and girls, to highlight their experience which is inclusive of but not limited to Black mothers. And Michael agreed and offered to finance the film in its entirety if I created and directed it. It’s crazy… It just takes one person believing that you can do it.
EW The timing of this project- It’s almost like it’s explosively relevant right now. Tell me a bit about your first foray into directing without directing experience, and how you learned to swim by jumping in the deep end.
OE The entire process was challenging because not only was I taking on the role of directing for the first time, I was also studying the history of Black women in America. The entire process was stimulating through and through because there was so much I was learning for the first time. Six days a week, 14 hour days, learning, and knowing that I’ve got this history to hold and that needed to be told… it was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting. The entire process was inspiring and demanding, and one that has forever changed me.
My whole being is focused on how we cultivate liberation for the most marginalized through reimagining a world that empowers and not a world that exploits and tortures.
EW Was there anybody who was particularly helpful to you in that process or or was it more about you learning how to teach yourself?
OE It was a community of people. It took a community of us. So, even though I was doing my own independent investigation of how to become a director and a student of history, I was literally in partnership with my entire team that I had consolidated around me to help me bring this into fruition.
EW But look at that. It’s a community, just as it is in life, as you said that real change is found in the communities, on local levels. It makes sense that how you see your art aligns with how you design your life. Practically speaking, how do you structure your days to help them to align with what you’re trying to achieve?
OE I start my days off in deep meditation- I wake up and I do my meditation and my prayers, and then I literally go into research, unless I have meetings or calls throughout the day. Lately, most of my days have been in deep research, researching trauma, oppressive ideologies, and healing modalities. All these different things that shape the society that we’re in right now.
EW Oge, what’s your SBJCT? What moves and drives you?
OE My SBJCT is Black lives… the survival and the thriving of Black lives. We are experiencing what is being considered the biggest civil rights movement in the history of America, and everything I think of, reflect on, create and talk about centers this. My drive, my whole being, is focused on how we cultivate liberation for the most marginalized through reimagining a world that empowers and not a world that exploits and tortures.
LOOK Abodi EARRINGS Stella & Haas EARCUFF Jennifer Fisher