The Wick - Art & Creative Direction: Olumide Gallery

Tartan Created Using Ai Technology @Olumidegallery
Ai Tartan: Alexis Duku @Olumidegallery
MBE Eunice Olumide

Model: Eunice Olumide
Photography: Lee Howell
Styling: Sayuri Bloom
Make Up: Paulina Seimbour
The Wick - Art & Creative Direction: Olumide Gallery

Tartan Created Using Ai Technology @Olumidegallery
Ai Tartan: Alexis Duku @Olumidegallery
MBE Eunice Olumide

Model: Eunice Olumide
Photography: Lee Howell
Styling: Sayuri Bloom
Make Up: Paulina Seimbour
Monday Muse

Interview Model, Activist, Gallerist, Eunice Olumide

Interview
Eunice Olumide
AI Technology
Alexis Duku @ Olumide Gallery
03 April 2023
Interview
Eunice Olumide
AI Technology
Alexis Duku @ Olumide Gallery
03 April 2023
Scotland’s most extensive celebration of tartan has been unveiled at V&A Dundee with the help of Edinburgh-born supermodel and art gallery founder Eunice Olumide. A passionate advocate for Scotland’s design heritage and its young designers, Olumide was named a V&A Design Champion in 2018 in recognition of her contribution to design and fashion.

In order to support the most innovative and cutting-edge talent of our time as well as providing greater access to art, Eunice Olumide also founded her Olumide Gallery in 2015, and has worked with artists such as Richard Wilson, Anne Samat, Schoony and Ian Berry. At the heart of the gallery’s work is equality and revolution.

A passionate activist and campaigner, Eunice Olumide has also worked with the Centre for Social Justice and spoken at the House of Parliament on the impacts of fast fashion on the environment. Much of her career has been spent fundraising for charities including Climate Revolution, Fuel Poverty Action and Children’s Hospice Scotland, too. In 2017, she was also awarded an MBE for her services to broadcasting and the arts, and extensive charity work mentoring young Scots.

THE WICK:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

Eunice Olumide:   It’s got to be aunty V. One of my first-ever bookings as a young teenage model was with Vivienne Westwood. She was so kind, bold and courageous. I think as a woman she stood for so many of the things that I think are almost lacking in society today. Sometimes we don’t support true rebels as much as we should.

When I opened my art gallery, she dubbed me a maverick. She was original, unapologetic and she was in a constant battle to ensure that fashion has integrity. I also worked for many years with her as part of Climate Revolution, which was something that touched my heart. It went further than a campaign, it was about saving the world. I remember organising a protest with over 70,000 people, and legends such as Emma Thompson came to support us. The best was when we took a tank to Westminster.

TW:   As the face of the Tartan exhibition, which runs until January 2024, you describe the well-known textile as a ‘movement of power, rebellion and authenticity’. Why do you think tartan is still relevant today?

EO:   For me, it is the epitome of not only human innovation in textile but the fibres weave a story of our shared history and culture. It is diverse, rich in colour and texture, and has a unique ability to actually tell specific stories, almost like an archive of who a person, or family is and where they are from. I’ve been campaigning in the area for sustainability for over a decade. Speaking at Westminster, it was important to me to do work that led to the first inquiries into how textile in the UK impacts the environment as well as what we can do to reverse our current landfill rate. I’m very proud of that. Climate change is what made me fall in love with tartan because of its truly sustainable nature. It is as powerful as it is comforting and functional. I think that is why it is still as relevant today as it has been throughout the ages. It has inspired some of the most inimitable designers in the world from Vivienne Westwood to Alexander McQueen.

I’ve been working with the V&A for many years and was part of the campaign to bring it to Scotland as well as ensuring true community engagement and diversity. It has been an incredible journey and I have been able to curate a number of symposiums, exhibitions and masterclasses. In 2018, I was awarded the prestigious title of V&A Design Champion for my collaborations with brands such as Topshop and The Common Weal, so it was my honour to be named the Official Ambassador for the Tartan exhibition.

TW:   As a sustainability consultant in the fashion industry, you state your aim is to reconnect fashion to the earth. In what ways would you like to see this?

EO:   It’s very simple, we need to go back to making clothing not only within our own countries but from textile that is biodegradable. We cannot continue to use poisonous chemicals and plastics. Microfibres created when we wash our clothes are not only killing animals but entering the food chain, and we have no idea how that will affect human life. It’s about reusing, rewearing and recycling. Making garments that are better designed and last longer, especially in a world where the majority of people barely have enough to survive day-to-day.

TW:   As an ambassador for Zero Waste Scotland and Climate Revolution, supporting sustainability, renewable energy, and the circular economy is key to your work. What do you think the role of creativity in fashion plays?

EO:   Creativity is at the heart of true innovation. What I learned through my work was the importance of finding people from all walks of life and bringing them together to create truly lasting change. We are currently landfilling 1.2 million tonnes of clothing and 360,000 tonnes of textile is just being thrown away. This is heart-breaking and completely unsustainable to human life. We must change, and that type of change takes the whole ‘village’ working together. This is a key role and where we should focus. Imagine if instead of having world leaders at COP, we had a room full of engineers, designers, scientists and artists. That’s how we change the future. I made a film about this, which was shown at COP26, called Climate Action Needs Culture produced by Picture Zero. In it I negotiate this topic further.

“Imagine if instead of having world leaders at COP, we had a room full of engineers, designers, scientists and artists.”

TW:   What advice do you wish you had received when you entered the fashion industry at the age of 16?

EO:   To not allow others to define your success. I think that when you allow outsiders to define your value, it is so dangerous. It is also relentless. I’ve seen models work themselves sick and eventually becoming addicted to the job in an unhealthy way. Sometimes you’ve smashed it, you don’t need to do 500 covers, it’s ok to appreciate your own journey. I also think you need to understand being a model is something where you are ‘chosen’. You can’t just put yourself in Paris Fashion Week, you have to rely on an agent, booker or casting director liking you, who may have vested interests in someone else. You might be the best model on the planet, but your face might not fit a brand or maybe that casting director just doesn’t like you. In other jobs, such as a photographer, writer, make-up artist or designer, you don’t have this barrier, you can work to be brilliant, you can take your time and produce a body of work that proves your ability. As a model, you can’t. So, don’t be sad if you’re not chosen. Most people can’t see a good thing even when it’s right in front of them.

TW:   You are a proactive advocate for social justice, and founded the ADBSF to support Afro-Caribbean sole traders and LTD businesses. Tell us about the barriers companies still face and how you provide support to overcome them.

EO:   I think most of the challenges are extremely nuanced, which is why I felt compelled to set up the ADBSF. Taking action and organisation is a key factor in mobilising the clear concern demonstrated worldwide through numerous protests, as well as five-point plans. I am often concerned though that we live in a society where as a woman you are far more rewarded for focusing on aesthetics, vanity and self – as opposed to doing genuine physical acts of charity. I would never criticise an individual’s right to live as they want, neither do I think that everyone should feel they have to have a sense of social responsibility, but what I disagree with is the disproportionate number of opportunities offered to those who choose not to.

We’re not sending the right message to future generations. There is no incentive to help each other, we seem to be engineering a society where we want to compete against each other rather than working together. I think that companies’ biggest challenges are creating diversity at the director and managerial level. Too often there is representation in front of the camera but not the person actually making the decision. I also work in DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], creating frameworks and strategies for businesses. One of the biggest dangers I’ve found is people think diversity is about colour and gender – I would argue that, although that is important, what is actually integral is a diversity of ideology, experience and thought. You can have people who look different yet all share the same views. True diversity ultimately creates a better society as we can often learn more about ourselves from people who are opposite than what we can learn from someone who is already on the same page. This I feel is a trap that especially progressive people often fall into – they get comfortable in their circles and forget that it may not be a reality outside in the real world.

TW:   Which contemporary African artist should be on our radar?

EO:   Founding Olumide Gallery with my first exhibition at The Groucho Club has been such an incredible journey, from Richard Wilson’s Slipstream to working with giants of our industry such as Bonhams, it has been my absolute honour to now specialise in Contemporary and Modern African art.

I have been developing artist Olumide Oresegun. I first exposed him at one of my largest exhibitions to date, featuring over 150 pieces of art. I held it at Schroders investment bank in aid of pancreatic cancer. He is a hyper realist artist and a true pioneer of his generation. I travelled all the way to Nigeria to scout him and could not have found a more talented and incredible artist.

TW:   Where is your favourite culturally curious spot in London?

EO:   Notting Hill. There’s something fascinating to me about the dichotomy of how it is today versus its history of Notting Dale, associated Irish, Celtic Gypsy or travellers and how working-class poor people were treated, mapping that from the slave trade, the Windrush generation and creation of the carnival to Grenfell. There is a richness of culture in the air, kind of like Brixton in some ways, but then there are so many buried secrets. I produced the first-ever on schedule London Fashion Week show at Lambeth Town Hall, but instead of showing my own collection, I decided to dedicate it to the Windrush generation to put pressure on the then government, working with the Black Cultural Archives. It was epic, I didn’t use models, instead I used actual survivors. It meant the world to them.

TW:   What three objects would you take to a desert island?

TW:   It’s got to be my African shawl – that’s your hammock, blanket, comforter, skirt, dress and towel in one. My book collection, and my mum if I can sneak her in my suitcase since she is my number one supporter.

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