Aniebietabasi Ekong, known to the Internet as baddieani, is a whole new breed of artist, the kind that that could only exist in the Internet Age.
When I first encountered his work, I was struck by the remarkable fusion of minimalist visual art, photography, fashion, and modeling. This is the sort of intersection that demonstrates the frontier possibilities I find most exciting about living in the metamodern era, so I had to reach out and find out more about this weird, awesome art. Generous and affable, he spoke about his worldview, magnificent clothing, and what we can expect from him next.
Jesse Damiani: What form/medium are you working in? Do you have a name for the kind of art you make?
Aniebiet Ekong: baddieani is an artist, a model, and a brand. My aesthetic is a combination of fashion, photography, art and my attitude, and this makes it very unique to me. In addition to this, my art shows my interests and my feelings simultaneously. I am baddieani, and my art is a representation of myself. My art is baddieani.
JD: How did you get the idea for these? Are there particular experiences, ideas, or places that inspired you?
AE: My experiences growing up in Nigeria, the UK and the US definitely molded my eye for aesthetics, while expanding my views on style. Moving around the world looking at buildings, it was obvious to me that people built things differently, I noticed that every different style had its own element of beauty in it. This made me an independent thinker, and I unknowingly started thinking about how I could make things look good, not how things could make me look good.
JD: Lately, each photograph in your Instagram feed works in tandem with the surrounding ones to build larger systems. What's the purpose of building these larger connected works? Is there a narrative intention here?
AE: I want to incorporate viewers in my art as much as I can, and give them a great time figuring things out. Growing up, I was always amazed by flip books and origami. I loved how each step led to the next, functionally and beautifully. On my Instagram page, individually, each photo is a work of art. Collectively, each row is also another artwork. And finally, all the photos link together as another work of art. Each row tells a brief story about me, and the larger connected works go on to show how I keep growing and am dependent on what I learned and did in the past.
JD: What's your method for choosing and planning colors, objects, clothes, and poses?
AE: My Instagram is a story. It is my story, and I have to tell the world about myself in a grid of pictures. When picking my clothes, I just pay attention to what I know looks good, not what the world thinks is "in" at the time. Most of my outfits are made or altered by me. There are numerous amazing ways to dress up, but trends make the public look down on other styles that may not be considered "fashion" at the time. For the most part, I disagree with trends, and my artworks project different styles in creative ways. My poses are me using my body language to non-verbally communicate my story. I have so much to say about how I feel during a shoot, and you can see I show it in my poses. When editing, I use colors that mirror my poses and outfits, of course, while remaining aesthetically pleasing.
JD: What's the importance of minimalism in mixed media and digital art?
AE: I started this because I was trying to show special outfits, and there was always so much in the frame taking away from the magnificence of my clothing. I think minimalism is very important in art, because there usually is a main illusion that the artist is trying to convey, and it could be appreciated a lot more if it is treated just like the prime focus it is. For example, my art with an attractive, complimentary pastel colored background with me as the foreground would have more focus on me as the model than otherwise.
JD: What role does social commentary play in your work? What do you hope viewers take away from it?
AE: I have had numerous direct messages of people telling me how my Instagram is a calm ground for them and a breath of fresh air.
Primarily, I hope viewers see my art and understand my view on style. I want my work to give confidence to people who are struggling with being looked down on for having their own unique styles and not being able to keep up with trends. I want people to appreciate different types of styles; everything is dope. There are a lot of social issues and cultures around, and my art is my voice. I don't specifically dwell on any other issue, but if I am seriously interested in being part of an issue and causing an impact, I'll use my art as my mode of commentary.
JD: Fashion plays a big role in your work. How long has fashion been a part of your life? Can you speak to the artistic value of fashion?
AE: Fashion has always been a part of my life. Although I think the term "fashion" has been misunderstood recently. It basically is the higher powers making trends, and others following these because these fashionable objects now make them look good. I disagree with this approach, so I took it upon myself to stray from this norm that is "fashion," and dress according to principles that ignore trends for the most part and focus on what one can make look good -- and trust me, anything can look good -- you just have to study your body and make it work. I have always been very particular about my appearance and how I made things look on me. Right from a young age, I familiarized myself with the needle and thread, making my clothes exactly how I wanted them to fit, and now, here I am, still experimenting with my clothes, just on a larger scale. I often got in trouble in secondary school in Nigeria for modifying my school uniforms because I saw the potential in a white short sleeve shirt tucked into grey trousers with black shoes, and I wanted to make this look as good as I could.
JD: What art/artists have influenced you?
AE: No artist has really influenced my art. I have seen a multitude of works that impress me, but this is my lane, this is me being as natural as I can be, I am not trying to be like anyone. I am just showing myself to the world, as baddieani. My family and friends have definitely had the biggest influence on my style and my art, and I probably wouldn't be this stylish without any one of these people that motivate me. However, I admire and respect Jaden Smith. I think he's an example of my view of how style should be, and I am glad he's able to show this to the world right now.
JD: What are your plans for the future? Any new projects on the horizon?
AE: Academic-wise, I just graduated Ithaca College with a major in Architecture and minors in Mathematics and Accounting. I am going on to graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where I'll further be studying architecture. Previously, I only made clothing for myself, but currently I am working on my first clothing item for the public, an aesthetically pleasing, functional winter jacket.