Living the Fuck Out LoudPolitics Of Style
Existing Outside The Binary: Jessica Udeh Is Operating The In-Between
By Ada Kalu
July 14, 2023
This is Jessica
The phrase, it takes a village is one of life’s truest tenets. Everything is collaborative and nobody exists on their own. This is true of art, of culture, and of Jessica Udeh. A self-taught artist and DJ, she is also the Creative Director of Chiamaka Studio, a multidisciplinary practice of varying creative ventures. Born in Prince George’s County, MD., Udeh lives and works between NYC, Lagos, London, and Toronto where she has navigated the in-between spaces of art, music, culture and identity. Her recent gig in Mexico Involved a live set for Diaspora CDMX and serves as just one outlet for the creative prowess she embodies. Across the years, she has used her work as an artist and soundscapist, DJ and her personal sense of style to explore not only her personal and cultural identity but the resultant sounds and experiences of this diaspora.
I first encountered Jessica through a client commissioned project, a trail that led me to her portfolio and choice form of art; collaging. ‘At first it was just ripping stuff out of magazines and putting pages on the wall but it became more specific. I like these elements from these spaces and I want to turn them into this.’ For Jessica, collaging and the process of creation is distinct, conveying art as intentional and functional because it has something to say. Her collages are pointed, working in contact with the past, the present, the future and everything in – between. Hers is an unfolding of stories and themes surrounding sexuality, politics, identity and the diaspora. This particularly speaks to Udeh’s worldview as she navigates multiple diasporic spaces and imagery as an American-based artist of Igbo ancestry. This specific reference to heritage embraces all aspects of her identity as a woman, as an artist, as Nigerian, as queer and combats any efforts to reduce and separate any parts of her identity.
Jessica’s collages are a perfect example of the relationship between artist and art. Both are bold, colorful, alluring and layered. There’s a particular quality of her work that is unflinching, focusing on its themes and subjects and speaks to the wider decision to create the art you want to create. For Jessica, this has meant coming to terms with the different modes of operating and the boundaries needed to protect and nurture her practice. Simply put, ‘I don’t do anything that I’m not interested in.’ Her work is not only a response and a reaction to the cultural contact zones she navigates, sees and wonders about but is also an expression of times and spaces she’s curious about. ‘What’s bothering me is what I’m here to talk about’ and this manifests in her work.
DJ – Sounds of The Diaspora
Her DJ alias is Jessic*nt. ‘I think that it’s a direct representation of me. It’s quite polarizing. You either really, really love it or you’re immediately repelled.’ Part of Jessica’s power lies in her ability to successfully create something new from existing sounds and cultures. This means exploring the expanse of cultures and languages, a reflection of the diaspora as a vast and mixed experience. ‘I think ultimately it speaks to the idea of repurposing and reusing and transmuting experiences and sensations.’ You can hear this in her mixes such as Office Magazine; Deep Cuts, a trip that transports you to locations both local and international regardless of where you are. Her mixes embody what it means to live among multiple communities while creating layered spaces of your own. If anything, Jessica as a DJ is the understanding of diaspora and the hybrid cultures we create within it.
This is no easy feat. It shows a discipline that she masters and executes in her creative practices. Not only does she move in the arts and the music scene, she also works daily as a creative director. When asked about this experience it’s all deeply personal. She speaks of intention in creating a rhythm that works for and around herself as opposed to working around these systems. ‘If I’m not doing anything creative, I should be asleep or on vacation.’ In the end, it all comes down to community, ‘I researched and dived into people that were living different lives.’ This highlights Jessica’s background as a Nigerian – specifically Igbo creative worker in the diaspora, a huge departure from certain structured and seemingly revered careers. Ironically, this is not new. Nigeria’s creative and cultural output speaks to the magnitude of talent that has always existed within the country’s borders and outside of it. Nonetheless, the decision to follow a ‘non – traditional’ path means trusting yourself to great lengths and warrants a support system to lean on and carry you through on the days you feel other. Jessica’s dedication to craft and personal development has resulted in familial ties that extend beyond the blood. Existing and working in communication with different trajectories and ways of being, means an expansive mind that manifests in her creations and shines a light on her work.
‘It’s literally whatever you want to wear.’
It’s always awkward asking people to describe their sense of style. There’s no one direct or correct answer and Jessica expresses this when asked the same thing. It’s ‘’gay, witchy, librarian on vacation. I love a maxi [skirt], I love a mini that shows my ass – crack.’ Jessica Udeh does it all. Her sense of style exists outside of her career and is instead a by-product of herself. ‘I guess I never really bothered with binaries within fashion.’ This speaks to the diversity of clothes and styling. Fashion does not consist of split tick boxes but intersecting bubbles of multiplicities and worlds. Dressing up is and should be fun and interesting and down the line she hopes to branch into garment-making. For now, Jessica wears what she wants, when she wants and owns herself in the process. ‘It’s literally whatever you want to wear.’
Jessica’s Favorite Brands
If you like comfort, clean cut streetwear and adaptable designs: Mingo by Domingo
If you like Y2K, looking and feeling hot: Sharkkini
If you like the hunt for fresh finds and reconstructed clothing: Asata Maisé
If you like genderless clothing, and a fresh approach to African streetwear: RIVERISWILD
If you like color, history and the evolution of Nigerian fashion: Head of State
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