KES X NANA YAA ASARE BOADU | BY KES NYC |
KES X NANA YAA ASARE BOADU
Nana Yaa Asare Boadu defines herself as a performance artist, yet, within the very first minutes of chatting with her, it becomes clear that she harbors so much more power than this label suggests. Nana Yaa’s distinctive movement-based artform conveys her unique ethereal nature, epitomizes female power and embodies universal human emotion. Retreating from the chaos and noise that consumes the modern world with every gesture, Nana Yaa is inspired by her rich Ghanaian heritage, international upbringing and diverse life experience. This background contributes to the kind of person and creator that she is: a master of self-expression. This developed sense of self manifests in her courage to capitulate to the natural impulses of the human body and honor the black female form, in part through her fashion choices. Nana Yaa’s philosophy on life, and of course, undeniably keen sense of style, make her a quintessential KES woman and muse.
Read on to gain insight into Nana Yaa’s past, present and future – how her roots influence her current reality and aspirations.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a performance artist.
I was born in London, raised there for a bit, then moved to Holland where I spent my formative years. I returned to London to finish university at the Royal College of Art and do my masters. I moved to Paris for my first fashion job at Kenza, then to Milan. I got a few job offers in New York and decided to move. So, I have been in New York for the last seven years.
I speak fluent Dutch, French, a bit of Italian, German and Twi, a language spoken in Ghana.
Movement has been a big part of my life since childhood. I never had formal dancing lessons; I am completely self taught. I don’t even know what to call my work; I just started by doing stuff in front of the mirror.
In 2011, I saw Marina Abromovic performing An Artist’s Life Manifesto to an all-female audience. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. I was awed by Marina’s honesty. I remember going back and writing in my diary: “I am going to become a performance artist. I don’t know when or how, but it’s going to happen.”
I started posting my movement to my private instagram account without any agenda. Things naturally evolved as I started to feel more comfortable being vulnerable. And then everything just flowed from there.
I recently looked at that diary entry, written about two years into being in New York, and was amazed by where I am now.
What or who has contributed most to the woman you are today?
The person that influenced me most is my mother. I have always looked up to her – she is so beautiful, so elegant, so strong, and so intelligent. She has always let me be myself even though in an African family you’re often pushed to be a doctor, a nurse or something more academic. I was very artistic from a very young age – I was always sketching, and she never forced me into anything. She wanted me to explore the world, to explore life and experience everything. With all of that femininity and super softness, my mother radiated a very spiritual side, which influenced me in terms of my movement.
I come from the Ashanti tribe in Ghana. We have a specific dance where the women do small movements and use their hands. At family parties, I often watched my parents dance together, which was so beautiful. They were so happy and soulful. Thinking back on that, I see elements of her movements in mine.
Dance is of course a very personal form of self-expression. I have read that movement is a form of therapy to you. Alongside its tremendous personal value, is there something bigger that you are trying to communicate to your audience through your artform?
For me, when it comes to movement, I am still learning about what I do and why I do it. My body tells me to tell a story. I can go weeks or months without doing anything, until something inside asks me to move. When that happens, I drop everything. It’s very spiritual and therapeutic. It’s almost like I am relaying past, present and future stories. I am learning about myself and working out issues in these movement processes. Nothing is rehearsed. It takes me time and it has to be the right time. Even when I do collaborations with brands, I need to be inspired by the right feeling and song. Everything has to come organically to me.
For me, it’s not about communicating a concrete idea per se. It’s about igniting a feeling. To be honest, at first, I was reluctant to post anything on social media because movement is very personal and specific to me. I am coming to realize that it’s not so much about me pushing an agenda, but about people embracing how what I do makes them feel. People send me messages about my work and they say things like, “When I have bad moments in my life, I go to your page because you make me feel good and calm.” It’s about evoking emotion, whatever that may be.
We are living through tumultuous times and it’s been one social or political crisis after another. How do you approach issues as they emerge on and offline?
My role is to learn, absorb and understand first. I’m still learning about life here. Coming to the US, I have thought, “What the hell is going on?” It’s so different growing up in Europe than in America. I am still getting used to the way people think here – especially contrasted with my African background. I am very privileged in that my family is very worldly; I have lived in many places and have met many different people. This background has given me an open-minded and kindly take on life and the issues we all face.
We all have our own responsibilities and although the way we see things may not be the same, we have to allow space for all points of view. I am not here to convince anyone of anything. I have to lead with my heart. Everything else is a distraction. What’s going on socially and politically is awful, but I simply cannot sit in it. I continue with my artform as a way of processing it all. I think a lot about what we can do to change things….It’s a very internal journey.
When BLM happened, some friends and I went to protest. We quickly realized that we needed to do something meaningful and lasting because soon the protesting would be over. We decided to be proactive and founded Building Black Bed Stuy, an initiative to support and empower black-owned businesses and organizations. This is one of the more outward ways I have been responding to serve my community.
At KES, we often discuss how connected fashion and movement are – the elegant ways garments can accentuate a body in motion. We deeply admire this duality in your work. How do you connect fashion to the content you create?
Fashion plays a large role in what I do. I love fashion. I’ve always loved fashion. I love the way certain clothes make me feel, so yes, it’s a big part of my storytelling. I love slip dresses…the more naked the better! I would dance naked if possible because, visually, I think it reveals with more power the way a woman's body moves - the softness, the tiny movements, the body itself. When you’re in a slip dress, it’s very sensual and very feminine. You can see the outline of the body and I think that’s really beautiful.
Pina Bausch often danced in slip dresses and she was incredibly powerful. She was beautiful, feminine and strong all at the same time. The black female body and the way that it is viewed is very different from how the white female body is viewed. That’s a big part of my work – seeing a black body in a new way. I feel that people view the black female body as very aggressive and they forget sometimes that there is a softness about us. Our bone structure is different but there is a really beautiful softness that I want to convey.
Is there a guiding principle that you follow in terms of your storytelling?
I honestly don’t have a plan or strategy. For me, it’s about letting go and being free. Just being. And with that being, comes understanding more things about myself, about life, spirituality and feeling. It’s almost like having two yous. One you is in this world, which is very materialistic, very chaotic, disorganized, always hyped-up. The other you is just free. So free, that nothing can touch you, nothing can bother you. You are like a butterfly. You can just be who you want to be. So to answer the question, when it comes to my storytelling, I follow my heart.
We are obsessed with your style. From where do you draw your fashion and home-decor aesthetic? Do you have a favorite place to shop?
I have been a thrifter since I was a kid. My mom used to import second-hand clothes to Ghana. We had a huge airport hanger space filled with piles and piles of clothes, furs and furniture. We would divide all of the clothing and my cousin and I would play there.
I love to shop at flea markets in Paris and London. I’ve gotten most of my vintage furniture, decor and clothing at those markets, which are finally all together in my Brooklyn apartment. I think long and hard before I buy things. I think a lot about shape and color. I love colors that make me feel calm and warm. I love old things, modern things – anything bric-a-brac.
Where do you see the next few years taking you?
I don’t really plan anything, I go where the wind blows me. Anything can happen and I am happy to go along with things. I never planned to move to New York, Paris or Milan, but these are all experiences that I needed to have. I am in Miami now, and I never imagined that. I just say, “let’s see what happens” and I like it that way. I want to experience everything and that’s a part of just being. If I plan it becomes too artificial and I don't think that’s what life is about.
We end every interview with words to live by…What are yours?
Let go. Experience everything. Love everything you do. Love the life you lead. Be kind. You feel so free and understand more about life when you lead from the heart and stop being scared.