Chikadibia Ebirim greets me with a hug in the lobby of the Union for Contemporary Art. “Peace to you, queen,” he says, and we travel into his studio—one of the perks of being named to the Union’s 2018 Inside/Outside Fellowship Program.
His space is eclectic and decorated with a variety of records, art show fliers, equipment, and “CHI” cut in large blocky cardboard letters above his desk. CHI refers to his name and his start-up fashion label. His multidisciplinary resume jumps from passion project to passion project: music recording, video production, photography, modeling, clothing design, art curating, and more.
“[Omaha] is a hidden pocket that contains a special something you pull out real sly to give to someone,” Ebirim says. “We have these hot spots of compacted and condensed culture. My theory about Omaha is that we’re so unknown and want to be known that we have such big dreams and shoot higher than artists in mainstream cities. There are precious jewels here.”
Some precious jewels he names include Watie White, Jun Kaneko, Lady Scientist, and Jocelyn.
The 24-year-old’s first foray into the arts came at nine months old, when he played baby Jesus in a church play. During his time at Buffett Middle School, he began exploring the potential of digital art while playing on his mom’s laptop.
Art is a welcome part of his family. His grandfather, Thomas Palmerton, crafted the gorilla sculptures zoo visitors often pose with on trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Until his death in 2015, Palmerton was a steadfast supporter of his grandson’s artistic endeavors.
The up-and-coming multimedia artist never enrolled in college, though Ebirim has sat in a variety of college classes throughout the years. In turn, he believes his work is based on his personal consciousness rather than predictable academic themes.
“Everything I perceive in this world comes through my mind,” Ebirim says. “Whatever my mind observes my body going through [is what] inspires me to create. And my body, being identified as a black man, goes through different things in this society. My identity has to do with the development and history of this world, and tapping into that moves me in different ways.”
A few of Ebirim’s music videos—including his “Black Lives Matter”—won top honors from the 2017 Elkhorn Valley BEA D7 Film & Media Conference at Metropolitan Community College. However, his inspirations are not all social and political. He says his artwork is an examination of the beauty surrounding him, a craft he calls “tapping into my feminine energy.”
“Anything that is a minority sticks out to me,” Ebirim says. “Flowers in a big-ass field of grass, you know? Feminine energy and the black experience are always made smaller in this world, and I’m inspired to expand that.”
Ebirim says he hopes to bridge the gap between identities through music, aiming to appreciate the dualities of his experience as an African-American with recent lineage from Nigeria, born and raised in North Omaha with diverse European-American heritage from his mother’s side of the family.
“Being multiracial, I’m more understanding to the racial divides and racial ignorance that each of my ethnicities seem to face,” he says, adding that he still encounters racism on a daily basis.
He vividly recalls an early childhood experience with racism. It occurred when he was 6 years old and living in Auburn, Nebraska. “I was beat up with a branch by a teenager in the middle of my street on a summer day,” he says. The teen shouted racial profanities and death threats while beating the young Ebirim.
His cultural experiences inform his worldview and develop a signature approach to every piece of art he makes. He says his individuality is present in many different techniques: sound textures in recording, “multiplexes” in video production, and call-and-response in performance.
Most importantly, though, his swagger says it all.
“People might know me for my walk,” Ebirim says, easily towering over most of his peers. “I put a bounce in my walk. It’s a mixture of my pain as a black man—my gangsta lean—but also my grooviness, my happiness, and my beauty of life.”
He throws up two fingers in a peace sign and pats his heart. “Black lives matter,” he says. “It’s more than a hashtag.”
Visit chikadibiaebirim.com for more information, including details about his new EP (COMPOS MENTIS?), which debuted at a Union for Contemporary Art listening party Nov. 17.
This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.