Josef Adamu


Plus Four Four (2019)

Photo by Paulina Tuziak

Photo by Paulina Tuziak

It all began in December of 2018, when I just finished wrapping up Sunday School’s first exhibit for ‘The Hair Appointment’ in New York. I was heading back to Toronto when I got an email from a fellow creative, Tahirah Jarrett (aka Tea), whom wanted to inquire about bringing the exhibit to London, UK. To be honest, producing another show was the last thing on my mind. I had several other projects to attend to, and I also was not in the mood to plan another one right away. So, I deflected the idea and moved forward with other responsibilities. As time progressed, ‘The Hair Appointment’ continued to grasp global attention, as various brands and publications got in touch with our team. It was exciting to see how impactful the project had become, and the exhibit in NYC definitely gave the story a much more creative edge. 

By January of 2019, Adrian Octavius Walker, got in contact with me. Adrian is a friend, fellow creative, and incredibly talented artist that works at the VSCO Headquarters in Oakland, California. He introduced the idea of Sunday School showcasing ‘The Hair Appointment’ at the VSCO Micro Gallery for an exclusive exhibit in the month of March. I was in awe. I was offered an opportunity that I never saw coming, but also in collaboration with a brand that I have been inspired by for years. I spoke to my team, and both myself and Jeremy Rodney-Hall (the photographer of The Hair Appointment) agreed to spend the week in Oakland for the opening night of our gallery exhibit with VSCO. It was wild, the opening night saw 300+ guests and it was extremely humbling as it helped us gain insight on just how powerful our stories can be. The level of diversity in the room was inspiring, and we were thrilled to connect with our community in the Bay area. 

As the trip came to an end, I found myself at the airport, plotting on the idea of a ‘traveling exhibit’. Is it worth it? Does Sunday School have the audience to host exhibits in various cities? Will sponsors give in? Are there various ways to communicate the art of hair braiding without being redundant? All these questions are constantly moving through my mind as I begin to jot down potential ideas. I was clearly motivated by the support we had received in both New York and Oakland, maybe we can extend this story even further. 

I got back to Toronto, and immediately began speaking to Tea about the execution of an exhibit in London. Tea had just recently moved to London, and was excited to help with planning in any way that she can. With the help from a few friends I had in London, Tea and I were able to source potential venues, speak to salon owners, and learn more about the general community. My last trip to London was in June of 2015, and my experience was restricting, as I spent a lot of time in the same area over a two week period. It could have been better even though I was fortunate enough to experience a few shows during men’s fashion week. However, I wanted to ensure that this next trip to London was a lot more adventurous, and the exhibit would be one of a kind!

Through the month of March until about May, I was researching venues, regions of London, potential sponsors, organizing pitch decks, while communicating with people about new ways to market the story. One day, I got in touch with an old friend by the name of Bami Kuteyi, who I attended university with some years back. Born British, she moved back to London from Toronto, and started her own business. We caught up, and she had so many ideas for the exhibit. She mentioned a brand named ‘Peckham Palms’, an Afro-hub and integrated salon that provides local black businesses with spaces to run their services. As I clicked on the website, I was immediately sold by how beautiful the place looked. The tropical theme, the architecture, and the interior design fit extremely well with the concept we had. 

“This is it, let’s lock in August 17th” I told myself. 

I spoke to the rest of the team, and by April we agreed to this location and date. The date made sense because it was a week before Nottinghill Carnival, and carnival period in London is often really fun (despite the rain). We got in touch with the Venue Manager @ Peckham Palms, and it took us no time to begin working out logistics, themes, production, etc. The chemistry was there, the dedication was there, and their team was as excited as ours. Though, I must say, the five hour gap between time zones really affected the communication between us. We always found ways to make it work, but it was not easy at all!

Now that we’ve established where the show would be, it was time to get creative. We began to think of ways to organically promote the event, decorate the venue, artists to feature and bring out the community. Side note, Peckham Palms is located in Peckham, a district notoriously known for its large African (mostly Nigerian) population. I was informed of the countless hair salons, food markets, and churches dispersed across the neighbourhood. Peckham sounded like ‘Little Lagos’, and I obviously became more excited to incorporate these findings into the concept of our exhibit.  

After a few conversations with the team at Peckham Palms, we decided to expand the event to feature hair artists from London. This was an exceptional idea that opened the conversation even further. After speaking to various artists, we were able to choose an incredibly talented roster of artists, such as Born N Bread, DJ Femo, Curlture UK, Jade Adeyemi, Kione Grandison, Lanaire Aderemi, and Favour Jonathan. These exceptional women not only aligned with the theme, but they also treated the show like their own. I’m still very thankful for that.

Let’s fast forward to July, we’re roughly six weeks away from the show, and we decided to begin promo. Everyone on the team has their flights booked, and we’re excited to let people know we’re going to London! The anticipation grows rapidly over time, and as we’re promoting the event, we begin to have conversations with local hair stylists, beauty brands, and influencers to get involved. The support was real!

The date is August 13th, 2019, and half of our team lands in London. I feel like I have landed in my second home, because the Nigerian accents had began to grace my ears. As the show was quickly approaching, we didn’t have much time to settle in. First stop, Peckham! My first impression of visiting Peckham was incredible, as all the stories I had heard we’re on point with what I was witnessing. I loved how raw everything felt, and the fact that culture could be completely carried from Africa to Europe. As we spent the next three days in Peckham to set up our exhibit, it was inspiring to see how people engage in daily hustles, but also discouraging to see the hints of gentrification that were slowly beginning to appear in these environments. These daily experiences reminded me about why our projects are so important. I chose the district of Peckham knowing that these stories exist, and I wanted to ensure that the people from the community can celebrate with us before the environment changes rapidly. It was a bit hard to watch, but intriguing to learn more about.

Prior to the show, I caught up with the District Manager of Peckham Palms, Monique Tomlinson, whom is originally from Brixton. She informed me that her neighbourhood had already experienced large doses of gentrification, and her job involves helping black businesses find comfortable spaces to operate while learning more about modern business methods. I was moved by her passion, and her commitment to the community through managing.

As our team hustled to get everything ready for show time on August 17th, I constantly thought about the conversation I had with Monique. Her willingness to have events that cater to the community, but also selflessly helping people maintain jobs. I put that same energy into the exhibit, and I knew this show was going to be great! 

As doors opened at 6 PM, I was a bit nervous with the amount of people I saw entering the venue. I went to the back and said a prayer, before changing into my outfit for the night. I forgot to get a haircut, because I was so busy with event logistics, but honestly the night wasn’t about me. I went out there, greeted a bunch of unfamiliar people, spoke to various individuals that follow Sunday School, and learned so much about different artists. The event brought together various art lovers, bloggers, influencers, business owners, family members, amongst several more. The space looked amazing, and the hosts did an exceptional job with entertaining people throughout the evening. Overall, it was great, and the audiences we pull never ceases to amaze me. Roughly 200 people were in attendance, and several others took to social media wishing they were there. I was so proud and I would not have been able to pull this off without Helena Koudou, Habibat Adetonwa-Julmat, Tolu Oye, Tahirah Jarrett, Bami Kuteyi, Russ Adade, Giovanni McDonald, Britney Henry, Jeremy Rodney-Hall, Monique Tomlinson, Nana Adu-Offeh, Kwaku Opoku, everyone else who lent a hand. 

After the exhibit, a lot of weight had left my shoulders and most of the team returned home. The trip became a series of adventures as I visited various parts of London (e.g. North Camden, Nottinghill, Croydon, Greenwich, Hackney, East Acton, etc). I felt right at home, and I began traveling the city like any other local. I met a lot of interesting people, visited several galleries, enjoyed the carnival, and partied A LOT. I spent a total of 19 days in London, and I was in no rush to go home besides the fact that my pockets were suffering. As a Canadian born to Nigerian parents, I meshed seamlessly with the people in London. A city with such a high concentration of Africans and West Indians, ranging from Trinidad to Ghana, Sierra Leone to St Vincent. I loved everything about it, and many embraced me as one of their own.  

All in all, the vision we looked to achieve was successful. The exhibit happened at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. I am a lot more confident and intrigued for what the end of the year may have in store for us. After all, the dedication we give to the craft is present, and the world is slowly taking notice of it. I’m just happy to be doing what I am doing and thankful for the journey so far!

Joseph AdamuComment