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How Haneefah Adam Made A Career Out Of Turning Food Into Art

A few weeks ago, Nigerians woke up to find jollof rice as a Google Doodle, and it quickly went viral on social media. The versatile artist behind the work, Haneefah Adam, recently spoke to us about learning her craft and how an email from a Google director appeared in her inbox two years ago.

How did you grow up?

I was born in Lagos but grew up in Ilorin. It is very different from Lagos, where I stay now. Lagos is faster-paced.

I know. It’s a crazy city.

Yes! I schooled entirely in Ilorin, except for my master’s degree, which I completed at Coventry University in the UK. My undergrad was in physiology. 

How was it like schooling in Ilorin?

It was cool. I don’t have anything to compare it to. But I do remember doing illustrations for my classmates, and they paid.

That’s funny. What were they using it for?

To decorate their desks.

Nice. You have been hammering for a long time.

[Laughs] Not hammering. But I’ve been at it for a while.

So while studying for a degree in physiology, did you get into any entrepreneurial endeavours?

Not really, no. I was just trying to survive school, to be honest. But immediately after university, I started blogging about food, fashion and my faith. That was my first introduction to business. Whenever I put up things on my blog, people would order for them. I attempted to start a fashion line but it didn’t take off.

When did you stop blogging?

Around the time I finished my master’s. When I am in school, I focus more on it. But after school, my food art took off. Now, here we are.

Tell me about that. How did you get into that space?

It was through social media. I was inspired by someone’s profile; he would illustrate around nuts. I started creating work from grains or leaves or anything like that. From there, I continued to improve — I was getting inspired by my environment and other creators.

Soon, I noticed I had never seen anyone do anything with Nigerian food, so I started experimenting with our foods. It really took off when I entered a food art competition organised by Rele Gallery in conjunction with Samsung. I won the competition.

Congratulations!

Thanks. It’s been a while. It was from there that my work started getting real traction. I illustrated jollof wars for John Boyega. He posted it but did not tag me sha.

Sorry!

[Laughs] That one pained me. I did a lot of things with amala and people were getting interested. I started getting commissions from brands to create engaging social media content. I worked with Coldstone, Nestle, Dangote and other companies.

Let’s go back. You said you were inspired by a certain online account. Could you draw at the time?

Not really. I was into photography and I was already creative with my work, especially in food presentation. I just continued in that vein.

Your most popular stuff now is in stop motion. How did that happen?

Stop motion was just another way of showing how food can be presented as art.

It’s not very common. How did you learn?

It’s actually not hard to learn. It’s just taking a lot of photos and combining them to make them move. I can’t remember specifically where I started learning from, but there was YouTube.

Interesting. Do you remember how much your first commission paid?

[Laughs] That was when I made my first ₦1m! I created 10 pieces.

What year was that?

Let’s say 2016.

So, let’s talk about the BIG ONE. How did Google come into your life?

The director of Google Doodle wanted to celebrate African culture. So she went on Google [Laughs] for research, and I came up. So she emailed me.

Where were you when you got the email?

I can’t remember. Maybe at home.

Did you think it was spam?

[Laughs] No! A lot of people email me and I get a lot of work via email. I almost never pitch, maybe because what I do is niche. I’ve worked with international brands like Mirinda before so the email wasn’t too surprising. But it was exciting. Ha! Google!

How long did it take until the final thing?

A couple of weeks. I replied with sketches then they chose what they wanted. After that, I shot a video, we edited it and then I shot the second video. It is the second video that everybody has seen.

The work was done two years ago, but when they wanted to release it, the End SARS protests were ongoing. It would have been weird if it was released then, so it was postponed.

Wow!

Yes. I was still pregnant then and now my son is two years old!

LOL. So how much was the job worth?

How much was I paid for the doodle?

Yes. Tell us please.

Above $3,200 and below $9,300. 

Terrible range, but since some of it is left over…

Where? [Laughs] I’ve finished spending the money since!

Ha. We can’t even wash it and tell you congrats.

Sorry o!

God dey. So why do you think you have been successful?

Someone told me that I am getting successful because I am consistent. I always have that at the back of my mind. Also, I am a spiritual person. I think that helps. 

Lastly, it is very important to have good relationships with people, so when decisions are being made, hopefully they’ll remember you for good. I don’t fight people, basically. If someone offends me, I’ll rant to my friend or my husband. But I won’t go and fight them. [Laughs] 

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