Chapter 1
Guests: Precious Okoyomon & Enuma Okoro
Host: Tilly Macalister-Smith.

Enuma Okoro (left) & Precious Okoyomon (right)

“I’m living a fairytale over here,” says Precious Okoyomon, speaking from Paris, drawing as we talk. They landed in Paris, right off the back of the 60th Biennale di Venezia where they unveiled new work at the Nigeria Pavilion, to undertake a six month residency based in Montmartre. Enuma Okoro is talking from Berlin, before heading to New York in a few days. She is fresh from curating her recent group exhibition, “The Flesh of the Earth,” at Hauser & Wirth gallery in Chelsea, New York. 

Precious Okoyomon is a Nigerian-American multidisciplinary artist and poet. Enuma Okoro, is a Nigerian-American writer, curator, theorist, and facilitator - she writes ‘The Art of Life,’ column for The Financial Times. Both share a fascination with the natural world, ecology, and regeneration; themes deeply enmeshed in their psychology and creative work. The conversation today takes place via video call between Paris (Okoyomon), Berlin (Okoro) and New York (myself). Both Okoyomon and Okoro have come off the back of extremely busy creative periods. 

Let’s begin. 

Tilly: How do you know when something that you're working on is ready? And how do you balance creativity coming to fruition with deadlines and demanding schedules? Could you percolate on things forever, or is it cathartic to let it go?

Precious: For me, it's very difficult to know when something's done. With this last piece I did for Venice, I feel like the uniqueness of it is that it could go on forever. It’s a radio tower of people's stories, like an archive of memory. So, to some extent, an ever growing thing. I really like doing things where I can hack into the re-creation of them endlessly. I think maybe that's why I work with plants and gardens and nature so much, as things don't ever end: all the things I usually plant get replanted somewhere else and I get to see the long life of them. 

I like thinking about the ever-afterlife. I’ve been making so many objects, I'm developing a sense of ‘now I'm done’, which is interesting, because I'm learning a kind of object permanence. I have to let go in this way, which is beautiful, and it's really teaching me a different type of grounding, a type of feel-knowing, of ‘Yeah, I'm done with this’. 

Enuma: I love that answer, Precious, and I feel like I resonate. I don't think that anything's ever done because I don't think a thought is ever done. I’m learning to let go of things. And I’m learning to move at a much slower pace in my own life and to allow myself that, regardless of what the world wants of me. Just to kind of honour what I need for myself because I am the only one that will take care of me. 

I surround myself with plants in my home, because I love to see life unfold. As I'm sitting where I read or where I journal, I watch these plants: from the night before one has moved more towards the sun, or I watch a new vibrant green leaf unfold and open up more the next week. Living with these other living bodies teaches me a different way to be in my own body. And I connect that to letting things go, or not.

Often, I can have an idea and begin writing and I put it away because it's just not ready. And I come back to it two years later on my computer, and then I finish it and publish it. But sometimes things just have to be done.

Artwork by Precious Okoyomon

Tilly: How do you manage the multitasking aspects of your work? Do you work well under pressure? 

Enuma: I juggle so many things, and as a writer, and as a thinker, my mind is always on and always active. One very practical way that I've always operated is having different desks in my apartment for different types of work. I have one where I write my [Financial Times] column or essay catalogues, writing that is more immediately public. It's an opinion column, it's reflective and it's a philosophical column, not reporting -  it's the writing that really takes a lot out of you.  And I have a table where I'm trying to finish a novel. And I have a table that's for all the bills, all the paperwork, the admin, to answer emails, all that sort of busywork. And then I have a space where I read and reflect. I've done that for many years. So that's one way that helps me, because when I sit in this place, I know ‘This is where my mind is.’

Tilly: I’ve never heard that tactic. It's brilliant. 

Precious: I’m obsessed with that. 

Enuma: We think with our bodies as well, right? Your body goes into a certain mode when you're placed, or place yourself, in certain locations.

Enuma Okoro's FT Life & Arts column

Tilly: Precious, you’re in Paris for several months right now. When you're not in your regular studio, and you put yourself in a new environment for a period of time, do you find that it affects what you produce? Do you like to create an environment wherever you are that feels familiar? 

Precious: It changes depending on where I am. I always have things that ground me that I bring wherever I am. But right now, I'm allowing myself to be where I am and be very settled in that. I'm a person who never stays still, and it's interesting to really pin myself down, to slow down, after going so fast for the last few years. Like when you take a really nice, deep breath. I'm taking my deep breath. 

Tilly: What do you look forward to doing more of in your work? 

Precious: The gift of being an artist is ever evolving. I'm just enjoying having time to see what wormholes I fall into. Because I never know, and then things surprise me. And that's like the gift of the miracle of being open. Enuma, what are you reading right now? I'm so curious.

Enuma: A variety of things. I'm an avid reader both by desire and by necessity. I read multiple things at once. I'm reading ‘Women Who Run with The Wolves’ which was written 20 years ago. Also, I’m reading a collection of essays by Salman Rushdie called ‘Languages of Truth.’ I'm reading a book about the history of swans, because I have a thing for swans. 

Enuma Okoro’s current reading list

Tilly: I’d love to ask you both about rituals - grand or mundane. How do rituals or processes shape the experience you have every day?

Precious: My practice is truly my life everyday. I live a life of ritual and repetition. I need that, it’s my source code. I have to be the thing in my life that's slow. I give myself a lot of space and time to listen to myself, and listen to what I need to actually be in my body and be present. The thing I've been asking myself a lot is, ‘Who am I, uninterrupted from everyone else's needs?’

And the rituals that come out of that are time with people, going on a walk with my toy poodle every morning for an hour, my hot water and lemon, reading poetry in bed, and then I write. I try to do it no matter where, wherever in the world, which is often usually not my home.

Enuma: I definitely have processes by which I enter a new day. When I first wake up, I'm very conscious of trying to gather whatever threads I can from the dream world, because that's a very important space, I believe, for me. We live between worlds and I don't think many of us acknowledge that, but I deeply acknowledged that. I try to catch the last images of the dream, or words or phrases, and I will try for a minute or two to meditate on them. I know that will sound kooky, but it's okay!

“I have this very specific love that's very expansive, the multiple worlds that are always ending inside of our worlds are very restorative to me. I think for me that's where nature comes in so much. I spend a lot of time in nature. Even when I'm in New York, I have a car and I escape a lot. My main studio is upstate.” Precious Okoyomon

Tilly: Can we talk a little bit about the idea of beauty? How do you define it? Is it an important concept for you?

Precious: When I think of beauty, I'm often thinking through spirituality, God, love. These are for me more rooted concepts of the things that I find beautiful. When the Earth moves me, or when people that I truly love see each other, these are moments of beauty like transcendent grace. 

Enuma: It’s very similar for me. Sometimes I think beauty is what expands you, even if that expansion comes with challenge. The beautiful is not always pleasant. I don't think it has to be. To me it is not necessarily about the aesthetic. And I don’t mean that superficially. I think beauty is what moves you to be more fully who you truly are meant to be. 

And I think that happens in so many ways: that happens the more we connect with the rest of the natural world; that happens the more we can face ourselves; that happens the more we learn to love and forgive. But then I also think beauty is a flower opening. Right? I love flowers. 

Precious: Things that stretch you beyond the elasticity of yourself. 

Artwork by Precious Okoyomon

“I love that somehow every day I feel like I get to see things clearly. I listen to the birds and I watch the plants unfurl, and I go on walks, and I look up a lot, and I'm always taking pictures.”  Enuma Okoro

Enuma: Precious, I'm curious how you nourish yourself? We live in a world where we're constantly bombarded with all the things that are broken and despairing. How do you maintain your joy? 

Precious: I have this very specific love that's very expansive, the multiple worlds that are always ending inside of our worlds are very restorative to me. I think for me that's where nature comes in so much. I spend a lot of time in nature. Even when I'm in New York, I have a car and I escape a lot. My main studio is upstate. 

I have a lot of people that reground me in love. My mom is very strong. I come from a family of matriarchs where the women led the family, and I think that type of centering really changes my perspective on how I view joy. 

Joy is my passion. It's my origin. It's my vision. I’m championing joy, and I allow it to move through me. I really let the world blow through me. And I'm moved by that. But it takes a lot of work and energy, and that's probably why I hide out a lot. I'm very careful about the things I lend my energy to, because my job is sharing my energy with the world.

Enuma, my question for you is what do you love right now? 

Enuma: I love that somehow every day I feel like I get to see things clearly. I listen to the birds and I watch the plants unfurl, and I go on walks, and I look up a lot, and I'm always taking pictures. If you follow me on Instagram, it’s repetition of trees and leaves and flowers and rivers, and people will probably think ‘does this woman work?!’ Witnessing life happening just makes me so happy. 

Precious: It’s truly a gift though, because a lot of people move through the world without witnessing. When you have the space to see, it's like a miracle.