[Off-Center] Tamika Abaka-Wood: I’m interested in worlds where humans create their futures, instead of the futures creating humans

[Off-Center] Tamika Abaka-Wood: I’m interested in worlds where humans create their futures, instead of the futures creating humans

Dance, Psychology, Anthropology. Tamika Abaka-Wood is interested in human knowledge, ancestral lines that define generations, deep-time and glossolalia, the way that language has the power to change reality. She has spent the past 10 years designing and delivering people-centred research, insight and foresight experiences across the globe for Nike, Masterclass, Clinique, Beats By Dre and she is the co-founder of Plantain Papers, an annual print journal centring the stories of the African diaspora.  

Tamika will participate at UNFINISHED, from September 29th to October 2nd. The theme of the 2022 edition of the festival is OFF-CENTER. Artists, anthropologists, architects, philosophers, entrepreneurs and thinkers from various domains will explore the idea of decentering from multiple angles, approaches, and mediums. The festival will emerge from an accumulation of “corners” hosting a multitude of experiences - yoga sessions, key-notes, dance workshops, musical moments, art instalations, conversations and performances. 

The speed at which people are expected to live and create (and create to live) and perform and pretend, is making the world more anxious, homogenous, surface-level and untrue to our primal gifts and services that could help us all flourish, says Tamika.

We talked with Tamika, before the festival, about the history, the future, the complicated present and our role in off-centering the fixed forms of thinking, to open new doors for knowledge and understanding. 


Defining moments in your becoming

I grew up in worlds of seeming contradictions and blurred lines. The hyphen in my surname gives the whole story away from birth. A Ghanaian father and a British mother. A Black dad and a white mum. A Black father who grew up very comfortably and privileged. My address even had geographical contradictions within it - the London borough of Barking, but a nod to Essex. I think my life was created in conditions that naturally allowed me to raise more questions about what it means to be a human, than answers. I’m still searching for answers and hope to be yearning to learn until the day I die. I feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere all at once.


Dance, Psychology, Anthropology

I have been a dancer. I was attuned to the ancient technology of my own body (and wisdom passed through to me that was not my own experience). I choreographed, taught and undercover mentored at a non-profit in my neighborhood. I choreographed and taught on behalf of Adidas and Stella McCartney. I went to school for Psychology, and ended up creating and publishing work around emotional responses to glossolalia (speaking in tongues) before I graduated. I then became an assistant to a clinical psychologist undertaking their PhD. I worked in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria on a year-long project utilising the power of youth culture to create platforms co-created and run by teenage girls… all before the age of 21. This was rare 10 years ago, today? Not so much.

I see myself as an anthropologist - the approach is something I can’t not do, the lens through which I see the world from the inside and the outside is so embedded within my bones. This is a new development, and only after 12+ years of working between Ruby Pseudo and B+A do I feel confident enough to say that. This will never change, even though I hope the outputs of my life’s work evolve and change as I do. Right now, it’s a techno-spiritual hotline [www.dial-an-ancestor.com], before it was a printed publication and events [www.plantainpapers.com]. I work as an employee designing and running research, insight and strategy processes that result in reports, decks, podcasts, mini-films.

The title of anthropologist, for me at least, has baggage that feels colonial and dangerous. That’s what the history of both sides of my lineage has explicitly and implicitly taught me. I find it important to accurately and honestly document our existences for future generations, so they can re-contextualise and make their own conclusions from a place of multiple truths.


What are the questions that preoccupy you at the moment

Oh, I love this question. Thank you for asking. I’m interested in worlds where humans create their futures, instead of the futures creating humans. I’m interested in knowledge, who gets to authenticate it and why. I’m inspired by long-term thinking (beyond our lifetimes), 7 generation-thinking, deep-time humility and the impact language can have on shaping our realities and imagining of more equitable worlds. I’m inspired by people who do not recreate and reproduce in their own ‘pure’ ideas and images as the object of truth, but allow for more participatory approaches. Gazing at yourself and reproducing yourself as the pure image of love and truth is very boring.



I applied in 2020 and was very inspired by Jerry’s Brain and took part in Perry Chen’s ritual. I was asked by the team in 2021 to walk around a graveyard with a stranger and just chat as someone filmed us. I’ve always entered not knowing what to expect (big fan) and left feeling nourished, inspired and challenged. Unfinished is full of people who participate - those are my people.



What does Off-Center mean to you

It means panning out and realizing that all the dope shit happens off-center - there is usually less resources, less visibility, less money, less time but more support, more care, more nurture and more blood, sweat and tears, more innovation, more life there anyway. Then thinking about not how we bring off-center into the center, but asking how we help those spaces thrive. Many people pay lip service to the idea of supporting those off [their] center. The unsexy word that comes along with equity in my opinion is also sacrifice.


Your centering resources

Things which are timeless and accessible to me no matter where I am. Making sure I do something for myself first thing in the morning. Scanning my body head to toe and noticing what’s happening. Shaking my ass in private and in public. Breathing in for 4, holding for 7 and breathing out for 8. Applying pressure to my chest.


The biggest societal challenges in 2022, from a creator's perspective

The speed at which people are expected to live and create (and create to live) and perform and pretend, is making the world more anxious, homogenous, surface-level and untrue to our primal gifts and services that could help us all flourish... Oh god, and our futures and our imaginations being colonized by multi-billion dollar conglomerates who have way too much power. There’s no space for mischief, for play, for paying attention - and that’s by design.

I believe there are people who are destined to create beautiful and useful solutions by being reactionary to external sources, and some who aren’t. So I hope the answer is yes for some, and no for others.


How do you feel the influence of these times

I’m tired of waiting for new, more beautiful, equitable worlds so hope to keep honing the role I play, and play it better and better everyday within these ecosystems of interconnectedness and change I see springing up, evolving and maturing.


What are you afraid of.  What are your sources of optimism 

New York City, and Brooklyn in particular reminds me of the struggles and triumphs of being alive every single day in specific and heart-cracking-open ways. I also think about ancestral mathematics often. It took 4094 ancestors from 12 generations for each of us to be alive - it’s so unlikely and magical that we’re even here.


A title for the present

I think Virgil Abloh nailed it, predicted it in 2016 - ‘somethings off’.

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