Rising NFT artist, fashion designer and philanthropic entrepreneur, Angel Ese-Oghene Ikuewan wears many hats. She speaks to Antony Rahman about her journey, using web3 to support Africa’s creative youth, and the intersection of fashion, digital art, and web3.
Angel Ese-Oghene Ikuewan was 12 years old when she took her first steps on the long, tumultuous, and exciting path to being the artist she is today. The spark? Receiving a sewing machine as a gift from her mother; she immediately set about indulging her creative spirit by bringing to life a variety of clothing designs. It was the the first real spark for passion and proclivity for fashion that has only grown since.
Known to web3 as Ese, she went on to study fashion in Lagos, and is currently studying architecture alongside her work as a designer and an artist. She mainly works in 3D art, inspired by her experiences growing up in Lagos, plus her experience finding her place in society, web3, and the world as a whole.
The young Nigerian sees art primarily as a medium for storytelling, each piece a scene with a freestanding narrative within. “My art tries to depict scenes not necessarily grounded in reality, but representing a fantastical version of it, isolating a single moment in time and exploring the story told in that span.” This facet of her artwork is on full display in Rage, a stylised representation of her own bedroom during times of profound inner distress.
The piece came about as a form of venting, created while she was far from home and dealing with a great deal of upheaval. “I wanted to recreate what emotional trauma feels like; how it looks. Rage is a very honest and candid digital depiction of a mental state that would tend to manifest, by my actions, into the physical state of my room.”
Though the narrative being expressed differs from piece to piece, “the lives of African men and women,” as she puts it, is a recurring theme. She pushes for representation in her art as much as she pushes for it in her daily life. “I often feel underrepresented, both in the media I see being consumed, and in social situations, so I push for it in every way I can”, she explains. “I want to constantly challenge what people are comfortable with, what they see as right, what they see as common.”
“I wanted to recreate what emotional trauma feels like; how it looks.”
— Ese-Oghene Ikuewan
“Not just in my art but in social situations and in conversations. I want to challenge the norm not when it is convenient or easy to do so, but when I feel it is the right thing to do. I try to ask, why does this make you feel uncomfortable? Why, for example, is something that doesn't directly impact your happiness so distasteful to you?”
Ese attributes much of her initial drive, passion, and continued success to her mother. “My mother was a very creative woman, expressing herself by way of unique interior design and engaging me in many of her creative fashion design projects,” she reflects. “To this day she directly assists me with a lot of my creative projects, and is my greatest artistic influence.”
As a digital artist, it was almost inevitable that she would eventually delve into web3. She fully leapt down the rabbit-hole, committing several weeks to researching all the intricacies of NFTs, the marketplaces, and the history soon after first coming across the term.
That is not to say that this undertaking was by any means easy. Ese's journey got off to a shaky start: after minting her first NFT in May 2021, she withdrew from the space for several months. “It was too much to handle for me at the time,” Ese recalls. “I personally found the NFT community can be a very toxic one in certain ways. I’ve found the space is not particularly kind to African women.”
She felt excluded from conversations, and never truly felt acceptance; perpetually an outsider. But the most problematic form that toxicity takes in this space is the kind that isn't even truly malicious, or specifically directed.
“As an NFT artist, I was constantly flooded with stories of other artists' sales, posts about other artists' wins, at a certain point you end up feeling like you're not winning. The space is flooded with all of these success stories, of people being supported by their communities and achieving great things and making good money. I started to wonder, why can't I see that success? Why can't I get that support? Is there something wrong with me?”
“The space is flooded with all of these success stories, of people being supported by their communities and achieving great things.”
— Ese-Oghene Ikuewan
People are naturally excited by the novelty of the technology, she concedes, and the unexplored potential therein. But she argues that it results in an unspoken agreement to promote only the stories of the high-flyers, the people who are shining examples of the idea that ‘artists can make it, thanks to NFTs.’ “It was easy to forget sometimes that just because you aren't winning right now, doesn't mean your work has no value, or that you as an artist shouldn’t be appreciated.”
She adds that there aren't many people putting in the hours to lay down for newcomers how things work in web3, what happens after an NFT is minted, and the many complexities that are involved in every step of the process. While these things can be researched for oneself, it can be a painstaking process. “At the beginning, no one was there to give me their time to say, these are the things you need to do, these are the things you need to avoid.”
After a period of thorough research, building contacts within the space, and learning all she could about the technology and the culture around it, Ese eventually resumed her work in NFTs. This was undeniably the technology of the future, she thought, and the potential in it was staggering.
Often described as an eccentric, Angel embraced the label in her web3 moniker, adopting the pseudonym ‘Esentric’, a synthesis of the word with her own name. Staying true to the moniker, she does not confine herself to a single path. While digital art is a skill that she continues to refine today, she also invests a portion of her time in creating immersive virtual fashion shows, creating a blend that has been growing in popularity in the fashion world. She also brings in the sewing machine, creating the physical versions of the dresses by hand, as well as rendering them in 3D designs.
“The potential of virtual fashion shows is vast and as of yet only barely explored through avenues such as digital fashion week NYC,” Ese says enthusiastically, noting that even very few artists in the NFT space have recognised the opportunity. “It is not truly big yet, but as web3 continues to leak into the mainstream consciousness, I believe virtual fashion shows will eventually eclipse conventional fashion shows, with the digital versions of the dresses on display becoming valuable NFTs.”
Despite all she has achieved, Angel does not plan to sit on her laurels. In addition to future exhibitions in fashion and art, she is paying increasing attention to charitable projects like LZYutes and Xrender, working with young creators in Nigeria and around the world. “I love to dabble in things, and all I can say is I still see myself in web3, because this technology is the future, and I would love to see how far it will go.”
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