Star Spotlight With Wana Udobang
Myles Igwe sits down with Wana Udobang who is a culture curator of many talents, with her fingers in many pies. A poet, moderator, broadcaster, documentarian, actress, director/producer and one-time model for a retail chain campaign, she has recently parlayed her influence into social causes- bringing the spotlight to oft ignored issues in society. This could be argued stems from her current stint as the host of Sharing Life Issues, an issue-based talk show on Inspiration FM 92.3 and her hosting duties on Airtel’s Touching Lives a TV show where the telecommunications company gives back. Here the prodigious culture savant talks about how she stretches her talent and time across different fields and why she has recently taken on so many social causes…
Growing up, did you ever guess that this would be the career path you would be on, right now?
I think I sort of knew. I originally intended to be a lawyer but I went to court a few times during my teenage years and I was very disappointed with the system and how things worked. I think I had watched a little too much Mattlock and Murder she wrote so i had that American legal drama ideal in my head. So my experience going to court helped to burst that bubble. It didn’t take me long to realise we weren’t in the movies to start off and this is Nigeria. So at 16 I decided to be a journalist, that way I could tell the stories of people and bring it to public attention. However now I think I am still telling stories but just in different mediums. For me it is still a way of helping people seek some kind of justice or resolution or at least it will be the beginning of it I hope.
Looking back would you change anything?
Maybe I would have also taken up the module in television at University and in the process learned video editing as well. That way I would be a lot faster with most of the visual work I am doing now. That’s the only thing I would have changed. I honestly think my career worked out the way it was supposed to.
You’re an O.A.P. who has her fingers in many other pies- poetry, documentary production, blogging, writing, ambassador for social causes such as rape, cancer, fitness and many others we reckon- how (and why) do you wear so many hats?
I have been told a few times that I may be one of those children who got off with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ) undetected, but personally I doubt it. I think I am just restless and I enjoy trying out things. But the way I see it, they all come under the same umbrella, which is ‘Storytelling’. So I am just expressing myself through a variety of mediums.
You recently wrote, produced and directed two short films that tackle social issues from skin disorders to trauma and therapy. What inspired these/why do you feel a responsibility to tell these stories?
The documentary Sensitive Skin was about my friend Glory who suffers from psoriasis. I felt like I had an intimate experience with her psoriasis beyond our friendship and for me that work was a portrait of a person’s journey. I felt other people needed to experience that journey be it to give them hope, teach them to be more aware of our judgments and preconceived notions and ultimately become more humane in the way we deal with other people. With Moby’s story in Room 313, I have had numerous friends who are rape survivors, some are sort of alright, a lot of them are trying to be alright but I see traces of the experiences trickling through into their everyday lives. I think a lot of us are dealing with unresolved trauma and fail sometimes to acknowledge the aftermath of that untreated trauma. Those are the things that have informed the choices in some of my projects.
Do you feel these issues are routinely ignored and why do you think so?
We have a culture of shame. As Nigerians, I think it is much easier to deal with pain much more than embarrassment. Sometimes there is this pre-occupation with perceived perfection. Even when people want to talk about what it is they are experiencing, they are also burdened by the fact that they might be shaming their families as well. In the end you are not the sole owner of your experience. You are burdened by your own shame and the shame of others. We are also caught up in survival. It takes a lot to sit down and really open your eyes to the things happening around you. Sometimes ignorance is not even intentional. We feel like we don’t have many choices so we close our eyes and get on with what is in front of us.
On your radio show, you offer advice to those going through several issues from infidelity to abuse yet you are not a qualified counselor, where do you draw your seemingly effective expertise from?
I never see myself as an expert but one thing I usually say to people is that I am standing from the outside of other peoples situations looking in. This means that sometimes I can see things they may not be able to see or may not be paying attention to. I can only do my best to bring some of those things to their attention or let them know they either have to lean back a little or lean in, but ultimately they are the final arbiters of their situations and their lives. I have also had my fair share of not so pleasurable experiences in life so I think that fundamentally as human beings despite the differences in our situations we are all dealing and struggling with similar themes.
Why do you think more media personalities aren’t using their position to be socially conscious or active?
Being socially conscious is difficult even I sometimes get emotionally exhausted. It is easier to mind your business. Furthermore no one wants to be forced on a pedestal because sometimes activism can seem like you have worn a self righteousness cloak and it does give people a certain impression of you. If you make any mistakes or take any action that is contrary, the consequences can be dire. So this also means you have to be careful about a lot of your own personal actions and utterances. You can’t live a carefree willy nilly life anymore. It is a lot of work. I think people are doing what they can in their own capacities.
What has been the highest point of your career thus far and what drives you to keep going against all odds?
It’s so funny but I don’t know that I have had a highest point. Though I am learning to enjoy every milestone but I really can’t put my finger on a highest point. I am also very driven by purpose. Most of what I do, I hope and like to believe is in tune with my purpose and my job on this planet.
What would you say is the lowest point?
I have been remarkably blessed and lucky so I don’t know that there has been a lowest point either in my career. But in my life of course lots of low points but I am thankful to be able to have gotten beyond them.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
There is Room 313 which I hope to finish making and airing by the end of the year, Culture diaries which is an interview series with people in the world of art and culture, a few plays I will be working on and Airtel Touching Lives season 2.
What is the future of the media personality especially one as socially conscious as you- what goals do you want to achieve in the future still?
I worry about myself because I have too many dreams and ambitions. The future includes writing and creating plays, films and documentaries, touring the world as a performance poet, curating contemporary art, hopefully presenting more television and more journalistic work as well. I hope to continue supporting the work of the Mirabel center and hopefully start my mentorship workshops for teenage girls.