Aniebietabasi Ekong, a.k.a., "Baddieani," considers himself an artist, a model, and a brand. Judging by his bright, minimalist photos—where he's the main subject—Baddieani's characterisation of his work is on point. But there's much more to his art than a collection of expertly staged, carefully crafted selfies. Instead, Baddieani brings back the fine-art discipline of self-portraiture in an innovative and exciting way, one that calls attention to a growing multidisciplinary artform while highlighting complex issues of identity in a shrinking global village. Traditional media and fashion magazines lack models of colour and tend to focus on exoticised narratives, where Baddieani lives his own art.
Currently, Baddieani is attending Ithaca College in New York, where he's majoring in architecture and minoring in mathematics and accounting. His academic pursuits seem disparate enough on their own, but when juxtaposed against his creative exploration of art and fashion, it seems as though Baddieani tackles a wide range of disciplines without any concern for boundaries or societal expectations of "sticking to one thing." Either he's a modern-day renaissance man, or the face of a future in which we all need to develop a widening span of skills in order to stay relevant, productive, and employed. Perhaps he's both.
With his technical focus in academia, it's interesting and surprising that Baddieani studied neither art nor fashion. Nevertheless, from a young age, he was always attracted to the aesthetic possibilities that came from bringing the two genres together. Even more intriguing is the way Baddieani merges the two creative disciplines: instead of creating visually overwhelming, overstimulating works with countless chaotic design elements and no real point of focus, Baddieani's art is refreshingly crisp and distinct, with clean lines, an attractive colour palette, and a subtle message embedded in the stark, bold image overall.
The artist says his aesthetic comes from carefully arranging photography, art, and fashion within his photos, and being his "own source of inspiration." His ability to isolate the most visually integral elements in portraiture, Baddieani says, comes from his experiences growing up in Nigeria, the UK, and the US. With his compositions he is able to bring new visions of that is it to be simultenously global, fashionable, and creative.
Baddieani's broad multicultural background has given him a unique perspective on the role of social commentary in art. He believes that in the past, artists had something to say, but lacked the tools, mediums, and audiences to do so effectively. "Conversely, the artists had their art as a way to express their thoughts and feelings, and therefore spoke for the people," he says.
Today, different social issues, new creative techniques, quickly uploaded social media, and a newly developing worldview are all changing the way art not only reaches people, but how it allows them to have a voice. "I think it is easier to address issues now because of social media, and easy access to it," Baddieani says. "The fact that many people are able to do it now makes it less risky, thus making more people willing to speak their minds."
Speaking personally, Baddieani believes that because his art is so intensely aligned with fashion, he faces unique challenges. "Trends make the public look down on other styles that may not be considered 'fashion' at the time," he explains. "My artworks project different styles in creative ways."
For Baddieani, the issues he's explored in his art are not related to any one "cause." Instead, the artist says he's attracted to a range of issues and cultures. "So if I am seriously interested in being part of an issue, I’ll use my art as my mode of commentary," he says.
Baddieani muses, "Art will forever be relevant as a form of social commentary. It is a silent commentary. Artists that are also activists have to be aware of this, because they can do what they enjoy and are passionate about while simultaneously raising awareness about an issue."