In Conversation: Designer and Performance Artist | Nana Yaa Subunu
Hailing from Ghana, Nana Yaa Subunu has seen her fair share of the world having lived in cities like Paris, Milan, London, and most recently New York City, and Los Angeles. Her career in fashion began while studying Womenswear Fashion at the Royal College of Art in London and has led to her present role as the Head Designer at Johnathan Simkhai. At a very young age, Nana Yaa also discovered her love of dance. Although not classically trained, she’s evolving as an intuitive performance artist, sharing this practice through live and visual projects. Today she is completely immersed in the world of performance art, creating insightful pieces like her most recent work, "Soft, Loud, Soft". We caught up with the designer and performance artist to discuss her creative background, influences, and travel essentials.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR DAILY RITUALS?
I love laying in bed for as long as I can, then music has to be turned on and I tend to do movements. Depending on if it's a weekday or weekend, I either get ready for work or I love running around my house like a crazy person with music blaring. My rituals are not consistent, the only thing that remains consistent, is my meditation.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AS A CREATIVE?
I studied womenswear fashion at the Royal College of Art in London, then moved to Paris, and worked for Kenzo. Thereafter, I moved to Milan and worked with Tod's, and later transitioned to NYC. I'm presently Head Designer for Jonathan Simkhai. When it comes to performance, I've always danced from a young age, making up choreographies with friends or doing weird movements on my own. My family would always laugh at me. I'm not trained, its all from feeling. If my body wants to, it has to. Somehow when I came to NYC, these two worlds merged and started to make more sense to me.
IN YOUR WORK, IS THERE AN INTERSECTION BETWEEN FASHION AND PERFORMANCE ART?
Absolutely! For me it's important and interesting how clothing dictates how one moves, it can be either freeing or restricting especially with improv. Of course, the look is important, it adds to the story that I'm trying to convey to the audience.
WHAT CITY, THAT YOU'VE LIVED IN EXCITES YOU MOST AND HOW HAS IT CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR OUTLOOK ON LIFE?
I’ve lived in London, Arnhem (the Netherlands), Paris, Milan and now bicoastal between NYC and LA. I have to say NYC has been by far the most exciting and eye-opening. It's been life changing here, I've met the most incredible people and learned so so much. I am setting out on doing and achieving things that I never dreamed of. It has made me think that so much is possible and everything is good that happens.
YOU SEEM TO TRAVEL QUITE A BIT, HOW DO THE PLACES YOU VISIT INFLUENCE YOUR DESIGN AND PERFORMANCE WORK?
I'm a chronic daydreamer, I love seeing new things and imagining all sorts of scenarios. But I also like to make them happen, so if I dream of dancing somewhere, I do it no matter what. Smell, feel, sound, light, and color also have a huge influence. It's about the feeling, does this place I'm in make me emotional...can I easily breathe without being hesitant...The smile in my gut is also important for me to be able to do something creative.
WHAT'S AN ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ITEM FOR YOU?
Red lipstick and moisturizer, full stop!
WHAT'S YOUR GO-TO ACTIVITY WHEN TRAVELING?
Always, forever and ever, museums and galleries, even when I have a layover; then good food, otherwise I get moody.