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Thursday, 1 June 2017

SIMPLYGorgeous Sunday Chill Session with Irenosen Okojie



On Sunday June 4 2017, I will be in conversation with Ireonsen Okojie as part of SIMPLYGorgeous' first in their Sunday Chill Sessions - a series of events centred around the arts. A family owned afro hair salon, SIMPLYGorgeous  is taking inspiration from the idea of a salon as a place for discussion and learning to host these Sunday Chill Sessions. Through it, they aim to provide a space for likeminded women to convene, discuss ideas, identity and be inspired. As the Deborah Johnson - the brains behind the event explains: 
Our aim with these events is to offer women of colour a kick back offline environment to be inspired and connect. In a nutshell, it’s creating a space that I would’ve loved to already have found. A place that champions and supports arts from the experience and perspectives of women such as myself. It’s not about excluding anyone but is more about providing a platform for the talents, issues and themes that are unique to women of colour and allowing these experiences to be nurtured and supported. 
This is our first session and we hope to have them occur monthly at least and have women view SIMPLYGorgeous as a place that supports all elements of beauty. Both physically and mentally. 
I was first approached by Deborah Johnson about the salon event earlier this year, and I instantly said yes. First, I was absolutely honoured that I would be moderating the first of what sounded like a fantastic new series celebrating black women doing great things in the arts. Second, was the opportunity to be in conversation with Ireonosen Okojie - who I first met and had the pleasure of being in conversation about her debut novel, Butterfly Fish, at the 2015 Ake Festival in Nigeria. This time about her very weird and very wonderful collection of short stories, Speak Gigantular


Book Chat with Irenosen Okojie at Ake Festival 2015. Photo via Ake Arts & Book Festival
Third, was the space. I can't speak for any other type of salon, but there is certainly something about black, Caribbean and/or African hair salons. I actually didn't go to a salon until I was probably 15. Prior to that, my mum either did my hair or I got it braided (but never in a salon). Being at a salon for the first time as a teenager, I noticed that any and everything was up for discussion. The salon really is a space where individual stories about identity, beauty, modern life and more happen. 

I will be honest, I stopped going to salon's regularly in 2010 and in the last seven years I have had an on and off relationship with it. Although in the last six months, the salon and I have rediscovered ourselves, the one thing that remains constant all these years is the conversations, music, laughter, waiting, waiting, waiting and more that comes with hair salon day. So, taking part in Sunday Chill Sessions was a pretty easy decision for me to make. 

'All That Glitters' by Annie Lee

I did also ask Deborah Johnson her inspiration behind the event:


Afro hair salons are such culturally relevant spaces for black women. We go to beautify, but also such great conversations and discussions are had and I wanted to explore this further. With the Sunday Chill Sessions I’m using the salon space in the artistic sense of the word as meeting room for creative minds. 

Irenosen Okojie's Speak Gigantular is also a great collection to launch the series with, as we will be discussing black female identity and how Okojie's work challenges its traditional perceptions. This was also echoed by Deborah Johnson, who explained her feelings after reading the collection: 
I came across Irenosen’s work just over a year ago when I first picked up "Speak Gigantular". I was enthralled and excited by the nuances of her narratives in the collection. I'd never come across such  left of field work from a black female writer before and it hooked me. Mainly because I felt the “black literature” I’d previously been exposed to was always of a certain hilt. Slave related. Female characters depicted in typical ways that bored and offended me. I related to her offbeat approach and Irenosen’s voice came as a refreshing find as I think the way her work challengers typical depictions of black female identity are important. 
So if you're in or around London (or know someone who is), come chill with us this Sunday, and be part of the first of an informal and relaxed event centred on literature, the arts and more. It's 12 - 2pm and free - although donations are being accepted for Ignite Africa Library - a Nigerian charity dedicated to the creative and literary development of teenagers and young adults in Nigeria and beyond. More details can be found here.

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