Joy as an act of defiance

Hidden in her whimsical and colourful digital illustrations, artist Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe’s goal is simple: for Black people to feel seen, beautiful and loved just as they are.

Edge, a Nigerian-Canadian illustrator, is passionate about uplifting Black people in her artwork. In her most recent project, Edge collaborated with Coquitlam Heritage to create a workbook called We’ve Been Here All Along, which uncovers BC’s Black history.

The artist behind the screen

Edge says that she owes much of her artwork and perspective to her unique and multicultural upbringing. Her parents are both lecturers, and she grew up on university campuses all over the world in countries such as Samoa, New Zealand and Canada, to name a few.

“Art has always been a part of my life – I’ve always been a creative person, even as a child. I loved working with my hands,” recalls Edge. “Even though it is atypical for a Nigerian family, my parents were very supportive and always encouraged me to follow my creative passions.”

They bought her art supplies and books – lots of fairytales and fantasy literature –which have inspired her art.

Edge started drawing traditionally on paper, but in her teens, she was introduced to digital painting & 3D modelling and was enthralled. From there, she taught herself digital art online using a rickety old tablet until she finally decided to study 3D film production in New Zealand.

Artistic style

“A lot of my work is inspired by vintage illustrated children’s storybooks, especially the fantasy genre. I’ve always wanted to put that ornate, opulent and whimsical style on paper,” says Edge. “And even though I did not pursue 3D film production, my background in it plays into my art. It gave me windows into new ways of thinking and visualizing space.”

Boundless, unrivalled – Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe says she owes much of her artwork and perspective to her unique and multicultural upbringing. |Photo courtesy of Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe

The current defining feature of her work, she says, is the colour and light. This is quite a contrast to her older work, which was gloomier and used a neutral palette.

“Back then, I was entranced by the darker and elegant fantasy some artists created. However, over time, my understanding of colour evolved and my work became brighter. My upbringing in bright and sunny Samoa came alive in my work. I still like to have tones of horror underneath my paintings, but it is not as apparent,” she adds.

Black Joy

What really ties in all of Edge’s influences and stylistic choices is her subject matter and in a nutshell: the experience of being a Black person.

“When I was younger, I never really drew people who looked like me. I realized that for so long I had internalized imagery that was very inspiring, but had never uplifted me. Why were people like me removed from so many narratives, or only present in negative depictions?” says Edge.

As an artist, Edge is interested in sharing with other Black people that they too are appreciated, that they have intrinsic value and can equally thrive.

“That’s what most of my depictions are about – about thriving, about joy – because even being joyful is an act of defiance in this world. I want my work to infuse that explosion of beauty and happiness, and I want Black people to see that and love themselves as much as I do,” says Edge.

You can explore some of Edge’s artwork on www.artofedge.com and support her work.

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