Interview with Writer and Editor, Nana Ocran (In Anticipation of Afrofuture at Milan Design Week)


Nana Ocran is a London-based writer and editor who specialises in contemporary African culture. Under her belt is the Time Out Group's series of guides to Lagos and Abuja (Nana was Editor-in-Chief) along with consulting gigs for established publications on West African culture for the Danish Film Institute, Arts Council England and the Institute of International Visual Arts. Furthermore, Nana was nominated for CNN's African Journalist of the Year in 2011. 

Nana is one of the forces behind the upcoming Afrofuture, a multidisciplinary 'adventure' celebrating creativity and technological innovation. Afrofuture will take place during Milan Design Week (April 9th – 12th) as part of the Salone del Mobile 2013. The flagship store of La Rinascente, an upscale Italian retailer, will be home to a showcase of media, events and performances celebrating Africa's newest makers, thinkers and dreamers. Nana says:

"Afrofuture shines a modern, pan-African light on what can, is and could happen in design in and beyond Africa, through wider, deeper narratives and experimental mash-ups with global innovators. It's a dynamic platform to kick off the conversation about African design and to think big about how the rapidly emerging future will see mould-breaking designers coming up from the radical underground to the global mainstream."



Today I'm very happy to bring you this interview with Nana herself (as I figure out how to get myself to Milan!).


What's your passion? 

That depends so much on where and when you find me. At work, it’s essentially about storytelling and I’d say my passion in that context is to unpick and relay the nuanced and incidental word of mouth tales that exist in Africa. I’m a city person so it’s the continent’s urban experiences that tend to move me the most. My focus for this has predominantly been sub-Saharan, but I’m really aiming to start casting my net wider. 


What inspired you to become a writer and editor? 

I think the thread really goes back to my childhood. I used to love listening to my mum’s stories about her experiences as a rookie journalist for Radio Ghana. This was back in the 1960s and one of the images that sticks in my mind is her telling me about an interview she did with a Hiroshima survivor, who would have been one of many people she would have met in the two years she spent in that role. She still talks about the fact that her father was so proud of her reports, that he bought dozens of radios so that all their relatives could listen. She gave it all up for marriage and a life in the UK, which was all the rage back then. In some ways, I might be carrying on from where she left off. 


La Rinascente Afrofuture - Kane Kwei

What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge and how have you dealt with it? 

I used to think that the fact that I haven’t come up through traditional channels of journalistic training went against me. I’ve had a very long relationship with the Time Out Group, and another early start was through the London Evening Standard – long before it was free. I initially ‘had a go’ at writing and it seemed to work for me, but for years I used to feel like I was winging it compared to more established journalists. But, I’ve always been led by my nose so I’ve found that my writing has led me to quite unique experiences with organisations including Channel 4, Sony PlayStation, The Guardian, and of course Time Out Nigeria, Lagos and Abuja – all of which were a ball. 


What has your greatest achievement been? 

I don’t think I’ve reached that stage yet but I’d say one of my ‘milestones’ includes a published book on London’s urban green spaces. It was a real pleasure compiling it and I still get a buzz when I see people browsing its pages in art gallery bookstores. I essentially work from project to project, so right now my head is firmly placed within the Afrofuture vibe for Milan Design Week. It’s a platform to really kick off some exciting conversations about innovative and experimental African design. We’ve invited international artists, speakers and performers who are flying in from around the globe. I’m really excited about it, not just because of what’s been curated and how I’ve been involved in terms of advising and consulting, but also because of the pleasure of working with such a clued-up team. It’s great when you know you’re part of something that blends culture, design, experimentation and hard work with a healthy dose of open-mindedness and fun – and all the beautiful space of La Rinascente in Milan’s Piazza Duomo. 


La Rinascente Afrofuture - Yinka Ilori

Where will you be in 10 years?

Hopefully with my feet placed far more often on African soil.


How does Africa inspire you? 

It’s the place where so many of my earliest visual stories are rooted. I loved my mum’s jokes and tales about life with her eleven siblings in Sekondi, or her afternoon school trips to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, which sounded so glamorous from our inner London home. And then there were my dad’s memories of playing hide and seek with his friends in the ‘playgrounds’ of Cape Coast and Elmina slave forts.


Anything else you'd like to share? 

Perhaps that fact that I have a persistent desire to re-develop my teaching muscle. It suits the talkative side of me. There’s something I’ve always loved about connecting with pre- and late teens because of the ways in which their creative minds work. I love to get them to expand on what they think journalism is. Not just by looking at digital platforms as outlets for text or visual content, but also for them to consider diverse vehicles, sectors, styles and contexts for storytelling, whether it’s through live performance, curating, or using the written word as a tool for gentle activism. 


La Rinascente Afrofuture Cristina De Middel The Afronauts


Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?

I have one or two things that I’m keeping close to my chest. I’d love to share them with Afri-love – but all in good time. 


Can't make it to Milan for Afrofuture? Interact all the same by following @afrofuture and #afrofuture on Twitter. You can also follow Nana on Twitter @NanaOcran.

Images courtesy of the Afrofuture team and Nana Ocran. From top: a Kane Kwei design coffin, furniture by Yinka Ilori and a photograph from Cristina De Middel's 'The Afronauts' series.

Kane Kwei

The workshop оf Seth Kane Kwei whо invented the famous design coffins іn the 1950's whіch аre carved іntо shapes thаt represent something important аnd relevant tо the deceased person, such аs а fish, airplanes, etc. All other coffins makers in Ghana who started to make design coffins were apprentices of Kane Kwei. Design coffins are used for local burials and considered as a major development in African contemporary art. The workshop has reached an exclusive position in the international art scene: tens of its coffins are part of private and public collections in Europe, Americas and Japan. Check out this behind-the-scenes look on MyWeku

Yinka Ilori

Yinka's influences are both parochial and global; from herringbone tweeds to Dutch wax. A product & furniture designer with the future in mind, Yinka upcycles and reworks old, unloved furniture to produce brand new interpretations. Yinka Ilori aims to challenge perceptions of waste through the regeneration and revitalisation of every-day furniture, where piece deserves the chance to be loved again.  

Cristina De Middel

Spanish-born and London-based, Cristina´s personal work deliberately asks the audience to question the language and the veracity of photography as a document and plays with reconstructions or archetypes that blur the border between reality and fiction.  



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