A "daughter of the African continent and citizen of the world", Ooooota Adepo is an entrepreneur on a mission to build a future in which all cultures - and specifically African culture - are uplifted, and creative innovation can flourish beyond political and geographical borders.
Nigeria-born and London-based, Ooooota has had a career as diverse as the many places she's travelled. With degrees from an Ivy League university and Cambridge under her belt, her business ventures have taken her from the finance and tech sectors to journalism and contemporary art. Disconnected? You may think so. But together these passions have led her to become an effective advocate - in five languages, no less - for the cultural riches of her home continent.
In 2013 she founded Cross Culture Creative, a consulting agency that connects African artists with the world market. Through her TEDx Talk and various writings (including this piece for SUITCASE), she has opened a cross-cultural, global dialogue that illuminates the struggles behind Africans' freedom to travel, the pervasive impact of Western culture, the presence of systemic racism and how, as travellers, we can actively redress these imbalances. During lockdown, she has cooked up her latest project, Dynein, a culinary guide that helps to bring the flavours of restaurants and hotels around the world into our homes.
Here, Ooooota unveils the vision behind her latest projects, lets us in on her favourite places to eat around the world and explains why the travel industry needs to be more diverse.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
I am a curious person who solves problems with creativity. In Nigeria, where I'm from, my interaction with children of different nationalities at school broadened everything I've known to be important. As an entrepreneur, I work to make contemporary life culturally exciting. As a creative, I use writing, photography and fashion to celebrate people, ideas and craftsmanship. As a human being who happens to be an African woman, I speak out against injustices.
You started Cross Culture Creative to connect businesses outside Africa with the African market. Tell us more about it.
Being multilingual and invested in the uniqueness of cultures, I realised that my "tentacles" across continents could serve key interests in Africa. Motivated by duty and love, I began Cross Culture Creative (CCC) to support impact investing in Africa with the guidance of experts who know the continent intimately. It has been successful, but not without its challenges. One of the services provided by CCC is advising on contemporary African art. Educating Africans on the importance of investing in this asset class and being a vocal part of the global zeitgeist is sometimes difficult, but there has been progress.
You gave a thought-provoking TEDx Talk "Are Africans Citizens of the World?" and wrote a powerful piece on Africans' freedom to travel for SUITCASE. What does the travel industry need to do to diversify and reduce discrimination?
By virtue of the engines powering most communication on travel, the way we move around the world is often discussed from a Western gaze. This informs the general narrative around travel, and I'm talking about the subtleties. Perhaps regions that accommodate Western preferences of exploration, cultural communication and comfort are given more attention than others. The travel industry also generally encourages travel less as a means to personal growth and more as a way of acquiring cultural capital. Writers, photographers and people in hospitality should be more diverse, but also be as invested in learning as they are in sharing.
How have your personal experiences shaped your journey?
I enjoy travelling alone, particularly to places where I don't speak the language. I'm forced to immerse myself in the local culture and form connections on a human level, a skill I've developed since childhood.
Describe the ways in which travel inspires you.
Travel inspires me to want to pick up a language as a souvenir, which is dangerous because it's time-consuming. Travel makes me more curious about world histories, more excited about spices I cannot immediately access, more restless. It forces me to slow down, or to move more quickly. To learn.
Let's talk about your new venture, Dynein…
Dynein is a virtual portal to the world via food. It's only a few weeks old, but the goal is for it to be a visual, interactive guide to global restaurants and hotels. Each image - a dish cooked and photographed by me - alludes to a restaurant or hotel. Red roses, for instance, evoke the atmosphere, mystery and excitement that define the experience at Paris's Hôtel Costes. Such pictures transport me back to a place and I'm once again mid-conversation with a curious stranger. All images are geotagged with credits to chefs, so that they're informative for people who care about these culinary heroes and their imagination.
What was the inspiration behind Dynein?
Dynein was born of my need to feel like I could move and travel during lockdown when it was impossible. Evolving from my quarantine cooking classes, Dynein became my way of inviting the world on a gastronomic magic-carpet ride. I'm excited to start introducing restaurants and hotels across Africa and Asia which are often overlooked on the sophisticated culinary agenda. Juxtaposing these spaces is my way of democratising access to culture and travel.
How can our readers interact with Dynein?
Dyneinis active on Instagram. It will soon explore collaborations with chefs, gallerists and exciting creatives around the world, all of whom celebrate dining culture. Sign up on the website for updates.
You currently live in London. What are your top restaurant picks?
What about abroad?
Tell us a secret spot in your home city.
I love Eko Atlantic. It's a 10 million-square-metre future city development in Lagos, Nigeria that seems frozen in time. The palm trees are still three-metre-tall babies. The space is deserted and surreal. I find it peaceful.
Where will you be travelling to next?
I have no idea. My passport is filled with stamps. I need a new one. And visas.
Anywhere you haven't visited that's on your list?
What's next for you?
Many things but I want to develop ooooota.com into a creative hub for conversations on Africa.
Finally, what's in your SUITCASE?
It's empty. Waiting to be filled again.