Essence & Jihaari

Power couple Essence Hardeen and Jihaari Terry tell us what's up. All photos by Sarah Soquel Morhaim.

What do you do? How did you get started?

Essence: I’m a curator, Ph.D. Candidate, and artist. Essentially, I look at lots of art, research, and am always writing (short form and long). My background is in African American Studies and Diaspora Studies and shifted from purely academic inquiries to a visual art practice, arts writing, and now curating. Because I began as an interdisciplinary scholar that sense of “betweenness” has steered my current trajectory of the many interlacing fields and disciplines I currently work in. 

Jihaari: I’m a DJ and producer. I used to play records outside in Oakland as a type of performance art/personal protest to police violence and then I wanted to play records more as a way to keep the conversation going. When I take up space that’s a type of protest for me as a Black DJ. 


Two individuals in traditional African attire on a couch in conversation.

What do you love about your work?

Essence: Art is life, spirit, and the un/known universe. Working between and across disciplines is my favorite (though absolutely exhausting) decision. 

Jihaari: I love reaching people through the sound and mood of whatever I’m playing. I only play vinyl records so it really connects with older folks and young ones that appreciate the dedication to an older craft. 

Two people on couch, one with dreadlocks talking playfully, in a room with plants.

What are you working on now?

Essence: 2018 has been popping off with projects! Curatorially I have a few exhibitions: Refuge: Shinique Smith at California African American Museum (CAAM), Bold Visual Language: Emory Douglas at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) opening in July, Second Look Twice at Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) opening in September, and She Loves Her at The Los Angeles LGBT Center's Advocate and Gochis Galleries opening in October. I also designed a shoe with my boo Jihaari for Everybody World which drops June 3rd, an experimental film I am shooting with a friend and incredible sound/visual artist Adee Roberson, and have a summer filled with research for my dissertation. 

Jihaari: I have a song out on Workers Comp Vol. II "Up Down," a shoe I designed with my wife Essence "Untitled" via Everybody World, and a mixtape with original beats and Chicago and Detroit House samples. 

A close-up of man in a yellow patterned collared shirt.

Where do you find inspiration?

Essence: In my family’s snapshots, Jihaari’s endurance, Leigh Raiford’s mind, my bizarre and talented homies, daily meditation, and all the flora.  

Jihaari: J Dilla, Madlib, graffiti mainly NY 80’s wild style, and the art/music scene coming out of Paradise Garage. 

Person in patterned outfit by cacti fence, and close-up of patterned shirt.

 What does a typical day look like for you?

Essence: Morning and nightly meditation, lots of Tulsi and PG Tips (that awake calm medium), studio visits and collaborator meetings, time with Jihaari and my cat Sir, Facetiming with Adee, and lots of time at my studio writing and researching. 

Jihaari: Breakfast, skateboarding, music production and crate digging at record shops. 

Close-up of hands on knees, white and pink patterned garment on wooden floor.

What advice do you have to offer someone who is just starting out?

Essence: God is change. Stretch yourself and seek comfort in supportive people and structures while you extend ever outwards. Cook more often and don’t go to every opening or party. Old friends and new friends can, and perhaps “should”, be a source of family so be sincere, vulnerable, forgiving, and funny with them. Meditation makes most things better.

Jihaari: To not let yourself get in the way, self-doubt doesn’t mean anything if you haven’t done the thing yet. Try it first, get feedback from someone else besides yourself, and keep going.  

Person in kitchen holding cat, and reflective gaze out of a window.

Anything else you think we should know?

Essence: Blackness and black people are my whole universe and provided the most expansive possibilities for every aspect of my life and practice. Straws are trash (literally) try to use them less or not at all. 

Jihaari: I have a residency at Tabula Rasa Bar Thursday nights in East Hollywood, The Standard Downtown on Friday’s, and Everson Royce Bar in the Arts District on Sundays.

Swing on my way. 

All photos by Sarah Soquel. Check her out here: 


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