The artwork for our last issue of 2018 comes from Ejiwa Ebenebe aka Edge. We’ve been excited about this cover for a while now; and we’re excited for you to learn more about her in this interview.
Do you remember the moment when you knew you wanted to become an artist?
Honestly, there’s no specific moment that stands out to me in terms of being an artist in general! Making things has just been a natural inclination of mine, at least for as long as I can remember. I do, however, recall the first time I realised I wanted to make 3d art specifically; that moment stands out for sure. It was when I first watched Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. That film gets a lot of flack (bless it, haha), but I was totally smitten with this new world that was in front of me, and the fact that it had all been created by people using digital programs was so mind-blowing to me – I was hooked. I don’t know how many times I watched through that ‘Making Of’ special feature, but the first time I did, I decided that I would learn how to do that too! Since then my 2d and 3d interests have gone through different phases separately, but now they’re starting to converge and that’s something I’m really excited about developing as I move forward with my art.
What is the primary fuel for your work? Where do you draw inspiration?
Complex patterns (natural & man-made – I especially love intricate, delicate, ornate motifs), colour, texture, tactility & interactivity/experiences. The way something smells or feels often inspires various imagery in my head (for example, the feeling of being submerged underwater is a theme I return to often.) I’ve also become increasingly intent on incorporating aspects of my African heritage into my work – there is so much richness and life in Africa that isn’t seen nearly as often as it should be. Horror is another major influence of mine. I love mystery & psychological horror – the thrill of the unknown and the comforting recognition of the humanity behind fear. I’m slowly incorporating elements of these genres into my work (although I’m also drawn in by bright and bubbly themes too.) Some specific things that draw me in are: plants, insects, birds, fish, gems, carvings, jewelry, fabric, couture, embroidery, beading, goldwork, glasswork. Lately I’ve also become fascinated with the calming nature of symmetry, and a lot of my work is focused on that right now.
As queer black woman, I’m troubled by the lack of diversity in the stories and representations that are depicted across all media. Representation matters, and my goal with my work is to help add another perspective to the conversation, to show people they are not alone and are worthy, and to help in breaking down dangerous stereotypes formed by the pervasive, negative narratives that have been built around us.
If you could reach back into the past and give advice to yourself when you were just starting out, what would it be?
Just make things! Failure in your attempts, does not equal failure as a person. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and use them to learn and move forward. I’ve lost so much time worrying about how to make the best thing possible on the first try, that numerous plans and projects were stopped dead in their tracks due to the resulting fear. I’ve slowly gotten better at this over the years, but it’s an issue that still affects a lot of what I do, and I think it would have made a drastic difference in my artistic growth if I had been able to internalise this belief much earlier.
What advice would you give to other black artists looking to make a mark?
Your voice really does matter, don’t be afraid to share it. This is something I definitely have difficulty with – feeling like what I genuinely have to say isn’t important or valuable, or won’t resonate with anyone … but I’m learning that this is definitely untrue! We all have something to say that will resonate with someone, no matter how small or obvious it may seem to us. I recently came across a YouTube video called Obvious to you. Amazing to others. – by Derek Sivers and I highly recommend giving it a watch if this is something you struggle with.
You never know if sharing your experiences or thoughts is what will resonate with someone in their time of need. Even if it’s something that’s been said numerous times before, maybe someone needs to hear it in your voice before they can truly connect with it. I think of the deep impact that various representation has had, and continues to have on me, and I absolutely believe that a single voice can help change a life.
What elements did you bring into your FIYAH cover and were you trying to make any specific thematic points with the art?
When I found out I would be illustrating the October issue I was thrilled! It’s one of my favourite months, both thematically and seasonally, and I knew I wanted to create a piece that incorporated aspects of horror along with the issue’s theme ‘Pilgrimage’. I also wanted a feeling of awe and majesty to accompany the eerie elements, and this inspired the designs of the looming, goliath beings. I especially wanted them to feel ancient and powerful, and not overtly malicious, but inspiring fear nonetheless.
I imagined the wonder of stumbling across such a magnificent, yet terrifying discovery, and the intrigue of the unknown aftermath: Will these entities bestow hidden knowledge upon our traveler? Are they angered by her presence? Are they benevolent, or deceitful? Was this meeting fated all along?
Lastly, I wanted to call back to African culture and design themes. African horror is a genre I absolutely want to see more of and contribute to, and this piece provided the perfect opportunity to do so.
How do you feel about the future of black SFF across media forms and what might its audience look like ten years from now?
I am beyond excited! I think of the charming Nigerian folk stories my mother used to tell me as a child, and how varied our cultures and experiences are across the globe as black people, and I see stories and worlds coming to life that are unlike anything the we’ve seen before.
As our representation becomes stronger and more widespread, I think the audience is going to grow into a large and diverse one. People are people, and I think we can all resonate in different ways with each other’s stories and experiences. I’m very hopeful that, as these previously unheard and vital perspectives continue to be shared through black SFF, it will draw the interest of an increasingly wide range of people.
If you were put in charge of concept art for a movie adaptation of any property what would it be and why?
The first thought that came to mind was an African adaptation of Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll! I adore this story; it’s so whimsical and charming, with an underlying hint of the sinister (depending on what you take from it.) There’s also such a diverse range of characters and environments, and to draw from the richness of African art, culture and design in recreating this world would be such a thrilling journey.
Who is an artist that you’re really feeling at the moment?
I’m really struggling to pick just one artist, so here are my top 3 at the moment! They’re such phenomenal artists and looking at their work is really pushing me to do better with mine:
- Brom: www.BromArt.com/
- Norman Rockwell: https://www.nrm.org
- Andrew Hem: http://www.andrewhem.com
What would be your absolute dream project?
This is a surprisingly scary question to answer!
I’m going to go down the road of totally-not-possible-right-now but, here’s a thought that has stuck with me for a long time now: curiosity cabinets fascinate me- these were essentially collections of strange and unusual objects; mini museums of sorts.
An absolute dream project for me would be to create an ornate, interactive tome of art that functions like a curiosity cabinet, but ranging all the way from small physical objects, up to explorable spaces. I’m talking interactive holograms, pages that combine to create 3d ‘layers’ that you can look down into like a diorama, or open up and dig into like a like a multilayered display cabinet. I imagine these as glimpses of varying scopes into other worlds, allowing you to gaze down into, and navigate around hidden nooks, passages, trenches … outer space even, interacting with objects you find along the way. I suppose it would be like a point-and-click game contained within a physical book.
There’s a scene at the beginning of Disney’s “Treasure Planet”, where young Jim is hidden under his planets, immersed in this interactive story unfolding from the pages before him. Bringing the spirit of that experience into reality would definitely be a dream come true.
Tell us where we can find you. Drop some links!
Thanks so much for the wonderful interview!
Thank you, Ejiwa, for being part of FIYAH.