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Franco-Nigerian Artist Daphné Essiet Found Her Creative Niche in Harlem

Franco-Nigerian Artist Daphné Essiet Found Her Creative Niche in Harlem

Self-taught artist Daphné Essiet was born in Los Angeles, raised in the South of France, and settled down in Harlem. Inspired by the poets Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, she celebrates ‘the beauty of Black womanhood’ and embraces the ‘power of self-belonging’ in her visual and literary work. Her projects range from penning poetry and lyrics, to painting, drawing, and graphic design. Her meticulously crafted art pieces evoke the elegance of La Belle Epoque.

Not Real Art Artist Of The Day Series

Refusing to be defined by medium, language, or geography, Essiet is equally at home reading poetry in front of a crowd, or working with color and line. After graduating from Brooklyn College and earning a degree in Music Recording Technology, Essiet tried her hand in the corporate world before devoting her energy to art. Buoyed by the strength of other creative women, she pays tribute to artists and songwriters such as Alicia Keyes and Grace Jones in her portraits, song lyrics, and writing.

I am a self-taught artist, I love to create in every single aspect of my life, from my hair to my cooking or to the walls, subliming spaces with "les moyens du bord” – with what I had. I read blogs, books, watch Youtube and use my imagination to create paintings, write poetry and stories, create digital work/videos/jewelry – Live My Life. Had I have other opportunities and types of exposure to certain things, my art would have probably been different, if at all.

Essiet’s attention to detail and line, and frequent use of gold ink in her intricately rendered paintings and drawings, bring to mind the opulence and lushness of works by Gustav Klimt. Her dream-like renderings of Egypt and Rio, portraits of powerful women, and abstract paintings of circles and dots explore spiritual and metaphysical themes that emphasize connectedness. When asked about her current stage of development, Essiet described herself as a ‘submerged’ artist, adding, “Or maybe right at the surface, emerging… Merging into the artist I am meant to be.”

Table of Contents

Daphné Essiet — Artist Statement

Daphne Essiet Headshot
Daphné Essiet

Whether with language, sound, or imagery, finding connections and complementary forms of expression feels like using my art to design a map for the human experience.  Inspired by the bright and lively works of artists like Hilma af Klint, Minnie Evans, and Beatriz Milhazes, I employ vibrant colors, repetition, and energetic patterns to mimic the balance between life’s simplicity and complexity. By infusing my imagery with a sense of joy and love, my work invites viewers to heal by connecting with those qualities in themselves. My abstract work was born of my own desire for harmony and a healing meditative practice to manage chronic stress and the weight of institutional sexism and racism.

By moving between an inner focus on my experiences as a Black woman of rich ancestry and an outer focus on society at large, my art becomes a bridge to a place where viewers can find themselves. In my figurative work, I center womanhood and the beauty of black identity to offer the value of representation and the strength of self-belonging. Ultimately, my art is an invitation to celebrate and cherish our humanity and the beauty of our beings.

Daphné Essiet – Grant Submission Work

Daphné Essie,t O Seu Corcovado
O Seu Corcovado, 2020
Travel Collection
Gold pen on paper
22 x 28 inches

Inspired by Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Daphné Essiet.  Bodacious Mane in Purple
Bodacious Mane in Purple
Bodacious Mane Collection
Posca marker and gel pen on black paper
11 x 8 1/2 inches

Bodacious Mane is a collection representing women with natural hair.

Daphné Essiet. Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace, 2020
Figurative Collection
Gold pen and acrylic paint on paper
14 x 11 inches

Inspired by Jamaican-American model, singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress Grace Beverly Jones OJ.

Daphné Essiet. Elated Strokes #622
Elated Strokes #622, 2020
Elated Strokes Collection
Gold pen on paper
18 x 12 inches

Elated Strokes is a collection of drawings made of flowing lines, elegantly juxtaposed in an abstract piece. Freehand drawing made with Archival-quality ink on black or color paper.

Daphné Essiet. Dotted Circle 5-01, 2020
Dotted Circle 5-01, 2020
Dotted Circle Collection
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches

Similar in so many ways, yet unique. The dots, the circles, the people, the experiences. Together, they form a beautiful conglomerate – in the circle of life, that represents the notions of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, all cyclic movement, God.

Daphné Essiet – Artist Bio

Expanding her visual arts practice from graphic design to painting, from abstraction to figurative work, and all the while keeping her love of language close whether in poetry or songwriting, self-taught artist Daphné Mia Essiet embodies the multi-dimensionality crucial for any multi-disciplinary artist.

After graduating from university and taking on the corporate world, Essiet felt the pull of a feeling that’s guided her since she can remember. A gut feeling, inspiration, a muse—no perfect word exists for something bigger than what humans can explain, but that intuition is what pushed Essiet to become the full-time artist she is today. Her prolific and adventurous nature has since birthed a range of creations and projects, from poetry recitations to public art displays, and music, paintings, and digital art, to a book of poetry. 

Inspired by seeing herself reflected in poets like Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, celebrating the beauty of Black womanhood and the power of self-belonging are themes Essiet centers to offer viewers the representation that was so crucial to her. An appreciation for identity and self-discovery permeates Essiet’s artwork, reflecting her own rich and expansive background as a Franco-Nigerian artist born in Los Angeles, raised in the South of France, and later moving to New York. Today Daphné Mia Essiet lives and creates from her home in Harlem, NY.

Daphné on the Web And Social Media

Here is where to find out more about Daphné Essiet on the web and social media:

About the Artist of the Day Series

All artworks have been published with permission of the artist. Our "Artist of the Day" series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100's of grant applications we receive. The "Not Real Art Grant" is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists, and this is one way we honor all entries we receive. Find out more about the grant program here.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York Gallery Director based in Washington, D.C. She has an M.F.A. in Fine Art and an undergraduate degree in Russian Literature. She speaks five foreign languages and is currently in a Masters of Non-Fiction Writing Program at John Hopkins University.

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