Essence Harden / Scholar and Artist

What do you do? How did you get started?

I am a PhD student in African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley; a writer and research at Sugar Sky Pictures; and a multimedia artist.

A lot of time and reading on my own! But I think following the things that not only motivate me but bring me life and joy became the way I began and continue to grow.

What do you love most about your work?

They all pivot off of a similar frame but require different executions/actions. I’m consistently stimulated and I have an immensely flexible schedule. I like working from anywhere and that reading, writing, and production are essential qualities of my work.

Where do you find inspiration?

Blackness- as subject, as my family, as joy, as my culture, and as  diaspora. Its my blessing and light.

What is your relationship to Osei-Duro?

I’m pretty much in love. After a friend shared a photo with me on Instagram a few years ago I have followed every release. Between the fabric, colorway and patterns there’s an endless stream of pieces I cannot wait to wear (or at least try on!)

What’s your favorite Osei-Duro piece in your wardrobe and why? 

It’s the two piece black and white print I got back at the spring sample sale. It's so soft and perfectly flows that it feels like a second skin.

Dart Tank in Black Doodle-Bop

Is there a memorable occasion or story where you’ve worn our clothing?

Soon enough! I am wearing Accra Jumpsuit in Navrongo for my wedding party in July. It’s so beautiful and colorful and perfect for endless dancing and celebrating, I can’t wait.

How do you style your Osei-Duro pieces?

My James Rowland Shop Platforms; My locks piled high; my favorite Job and Boss bag; and black or purple lipstick.

Describe your perfect day off.

The most perfect day off would be 85 degrees, early morning snacks and coffee with my boo at Gjusta then swimming and beach reading all afternoon while listening to jams, some delicious Korean food for dinner and dancing at The Lash.

How does the city you live in influence your creativity?

Los Angeles bleeds abundance; in its arts, aesthetics, ocean, and mountains there is always something to see/feel/immerse yourself in. That type of insatiableness is the cities ethos and keeps me constantly roused.

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

I just moved here a year ago and there seems to be a massive amount of opportunity so know that if you stay in some nights, have missed connections or whatever else that may seem like a damper that there will always be more. Seriously.

Is there any music you’re loving right now?

DJ Jihaari is killing it over on Mixcloud and Soundcloud.

Tropic Green and Nite Jewel both have new albums that are otherworldly.

You’re hosting the dinner party of your dreams. Who is invited (anyone, dead or alive) and what’s for dinner?

Oh the list is big! Prince, Grace Jones, Octavia Butler, Glenn Ligon, Stuart Hall, Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Faith Ringgold, James Baldwin, Thelma Golden, Duro Olowu, and Leslie Jones. I think an array of perfectly fried chicken, elote, and a peach crisp would make me so happy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My grandmothers wedding ring

Which living person do you most admire? / Who are your heroes in real life?

Medgar Evers, my grandmother Gladys Glover.

What is your motto?

"Change is God" Octavia Butler said it best.


Essence Harden was born and raised in Oakland, CA.

As part of YBCA Creative Ecosystems second cohort, Body Politics, Essence has found a home in multimedia arts.  Her work queries blackness, joy, and il/legibility using textile, language, family photography. Her work has appeared at SOMarts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), and The Diaspora: The Department of African American Studies.

She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA where she is the editor for The Diaspora, a contributor for SFAQ: International Arts and Culture, and runs the pop up Flat Top Biscuits.