I met performance artist and fashion design director Nana Yaa Asare Boadu for the first time at LaGuardia airport after a red eye from the west coast last Summer. I had already been following her on Instagram and was intensely intrigued (girl crush) by the brilliance that she projects in her videos which feature incredible movement, personal style, and a covetable (mouth-watering) aesthetic. When I met her at 7 am that morning, she looked well-rested, possessed an enviable travel style, and was simply glowing. I resembled roadkill, but she was so warm and friendly that I forgot about my appearance and made sure that we exchanged details.
Meet Nana Yaa Asare Boadu
Hailing from London, thanks to a Ghanaian family of politicians, musicians, and healers, Nana has lived and traveled around the world and is now based between NY and L.A. for work. Join us as we discover what drives her art, insightful details of her fashion journey, and her personal list of super inspiring creatives. So friends, grab your favorite cup or glass of something and enjoy getting to know this Pretty Bird.
All the Pretty Birds: Where are you and your family from?
Nana Yaa Asare Boadu: I was born in London, but grew up in Holland. My heritage is Ghanaian.
ATPB: Did you study dance growing up? Were there any dancers in your family?
NYAB: I never studied dance, unless you count about 5 tap-dance lessons when I was 6 years old. My family members were politicians, musicians, and healers.
ATPB: Would you consider yourself a performance artist?
NYAB: I am a performance artist.
ATPB: What do you communicate through your art?
NYAB: I consider how improvisational forces explore the self and relational entities of both animate and inanimate. My repertoire of movement tests the possibilities of sensuality, roaming between stoic and seductive postures that navigate how affect, audience, and architecture inform the physics of the black female body.
ATPB: How did you decide to share your beautiful expression on Instagram/social media?
NYAB: It took a lot of courage… I didn’t know how I would feel or how people would react, but at the same time, it had to be done. I definitely went through waves of anxiety but pushed myself to share that experience with the world in an effort to unlock aspects of my own personal growth.
ATPB: As a dancer, how are you challenging societal constructs of the brown body in popular culture? How are you reclaiming agency over the brown body for yourself and other women of color?
NYAB: In this context, I don’t like the word “challenging”; it’s more about adding to a narrative of an already multifaceted community.
ATPB: Who are your favorite artists (dance, art, music, literary), living or deceased and why?
NYAB: I love, love, love and admire tremendously Pina Bausch, she makes me feel so much, I move with her… Writer Colette was such a multi-talented strong woman in her time. I’ve read all her books and one of them inspired my final collection at the Royal College of Art. Zadie Smith, her books take me back to my childhood in London. Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, she’s just magic, her art makes me daydream. Egon Schiele, so ahead of his time, beautifully honest and raw. Oskar Schlemmer wow shapes! Francesca Woodman is tragically honest, beautiful and Thundercat, his lyrics are me!
ATPB: Can we see any of their works in your performances?
NYAB: I don’t think it’s about me using their work in mine, my performance is very personal to my experience especially as a Black woman in this day and age. Unless I use music that speaks to me from an artist, I don’t go out of my way to study other people’s work to incorporate it in my own. I admire and understand their practice and respect it.
ATPB: Collaboration with other creatives seems to be a part of your artistic process, how has that helped your art and what have you learned from it?
NYAB: I absolutely love working with other artists, it helped me to discover more of myself. I want to be challenged and pushed, to be taught new ways of thinking throughout my process.
ATPB: Who else inspires you right now?
NYAB: For me, movement is not an isolated choreographed exercise, it’s like a therapeutic internal experience with no words. Therefore it’s not about someone inspiring me to do something but my own unspoken means of self-expression.
ATPB: You are a Design Director, how long have you been working in fashion?
NYAB: I’ve been in the industry for 10 years. Started in Paris then Milan and now New York/LA…
ATPB: Can you please tell me about your experience working in Milan. We crossed paths and I remember you mentioning how racist you found it. We are working to highlight digital creatives of color in Italy, and I would like to add your reflections to our body of work.
NYAB: At the time, I was really excited to work in Milan. I had just left Paris and was so eager to start my new position as senior designer. But I soon started to experience so many things that made my time there miserable. There was a hierarchy not only at work but also in general. It wasn’t as friendly as I thought and I never saw any people of color unless it was fashion week. I started feeling isolated and realized I had never experienced this level of racism, because yes, you have levels… From interactions with people at work to just walking down the street or sitting on the subway minding my business. I was looked at as either a student, prostitute, or refugee. People would say the most demeaning things to me. There were so many nightmarish instances that I became so depressed with a creative block, I had to leave. I moved back to London with my sister then moved to NYC immediately after. I started to grow stronger there, slowly undoing all the damage that had been done to my self-esteem…
ATPB: What moves you about fashion?
NYAB: When I first got into fashion it was about creating, sketching, concepting just being in a creative bubble with a team of people, that magical process. That used to move me more than the end result. Now with the added performance aspect, it really inspires my consciousness as to how clothing moves with my body movements.
ATPB: Can you share some of your favorite designers with us?
NYAB: Maki Oh, Roksanda Ilincic, Eckhaus Latta, Margiela, Stella McCartney, Chloe, Jacquemus – so, so many!
ATPB: What are your thoughts on inclusivity in fashion?
NYAB: I think the fashion industry should be more sincere with their idea of inclusivity because, to be honest, it still feels like a trend and so many brands, magazines, and people are still getting it so so wrong.
ATPB: How do you think fashion can evolve after the COVID-19 pandemic?
NYAB: I think the industry has become too saturated, we need to slow down and concentrate on quality, not quantity.
ATPB: You’re currently based between LA and NYC and have lived around the world – what inspired this move?
NYAB: I moved here for work.
ATPB: What are some of your favorite cities in the world and why?
NYAB: I love being anywhere in Ghana – that’s my heart. Marrakech for landscapes, other people’s homes, furniture. I stayed with Antonio Marras in Sardinia, he has the most beautiful home on a hill overlooking the sea. In Kyoto, my experience was very spiritual.
ATPB: Do you incorporate your experiences from those cities or countries into your work?
NYAB: It’s more about the feelings I experience when I’m in those places as my work is impromptu, so I do things in that particular moment.
ATPB: What do you think about travel in the future? Will you be ready to board a flight in the next few months?
NYAB: Hopefully we will be more conscious of our carbon footprint and not take the privilege of traveling for granted. I will probably be wearing a hazmat suit like Naomi Campbell!
ATPB: Dancing is a demanding activity and profession – how do you take care of your body and what’s a self-care priority?
NYAB: Sleep is so important to me, as cells regenerate and your body heals, stretching every part of my body, and feeding myself with nourishing food, preferably vegan.
ATPB: Being online can feel like we don’t get to switch off – how do you unwind from a long week/day or intense period in your life?
NYAB: Movement is my escape, and I share it with the world to escape with me.
ATPB: Your hair is amazing! What’s one of your must-have products or favorite hair care tips?
NYAB: Unfortunately I am the laziest person when it comes to my hair. I’m embarrassed to say. I just use conditioners (with no parabens or sulfates) and coconut oil.
ATPB: Can you share a favorite quote, poem, or prayer that you turn to in challenging moments?
NYAB: Progress is dancing to the same song you used to cry to…
Imagery by Myesha Evon
See more of Nana Yaa Asare Boadu on Instagram @lalanana7