We had the good fortune of connecting with Ayana Evans and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ayana, what habits do you feel play an important role in your life?
I think there are four habits that stand out… One isn’t healthy though: 1. I don’t quit easily. By the time I have abandoned a project most people would have walked away a year or two earlier; this usually leads me to a solution for problems that arise when working on new projects or pushes me through the rough patches of my career (meaning financial rough patches and long stretches when I am not offered shows). 2. I ask for help when needed because I know I cant do it alone AND I give help when I can because I don’t want others to do it alone either. From asking for money during a Kickstarter campaign to asking friends to link my posts or help me with designing PR materials I often have to humble myself to get some help to get to bump to the next rung in my career. In turn, I really try hard to lend help to others with this same level of rigor, if not more. That has come back to me in many unexpected ways; nothing helps a career like being humble and nice. 3. I think of everything art related in terms of competition and ranking. — This pushes me to do my best work, but it is also NOT HEALTHY. 4. I’m fun.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When I was younger I was too self conscious about my body to perform in public so painting made the most sense. However, eventually I decided painting wasn’t for me so I went into fashion design and quit art for 7 yrs. After 7 yrs of fashion I decided I wanted to be a part of the art world again but this time I wanted to do something different. So I started going to art fairs and art exhibitions to find where I fit. It was extremely lonely because I didn’t know many people anymore and now I looked more like a fashion person than a painter so I didn’t fit in at all. ( I looked too flashy) So I tried wearing black more… wearing my glasses more… forced myself to talk to strangers. etc. Eventually I just said forget it. I was usually the only Black woman in the room anyway; what was the point of trying so hard to fit in? SO a fashion friend suggested I try standing out. That’s when I started wearing my neon zebra print to art events. It was only supposed to be a one time thing, but after doin git once I felt I needed to do it again to continue the conversations on race, gender, and that body that Operation Catsuit started. I thought neon would look best in the white box settings. Another friend suggested I record what happened when I went to the museums and galleries. I made the videos, edited them myself on a borrowed computer and uploaded them to YouTube. After a while, the first one went viral. I never aimed for that. I just wanted to make art I could afford that felt immediate/confrontational. The video going viral forced me to call myself a performance artist! It also lead to my first showing at a gallery. Panoply Performance Lab in Bk. It was a small DIY space that changed my life. I still think a lot about painting when I perform. I think about how the body suit will look in a white space against my skin tone and signature red lipstick. – I think about what color and texture the flowers and crowns I wear are, I picture my performances like I used to picture my paintings. BUT they are more in your face than a painting. Performance puts you inside the feeling a paint allows you to walk away from.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Woe… Covid has changed this answer COMPLETELY. Pre-Covid I would have said I love to take out of towners to the day party Everyday People and small local concerts if possible… but now… My answer is more lowkey. Dessert from Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery on the Lower East Side. They have a the BEST cupcakes in the city with both dairy and vegan options and they make an amazing banana pudding. LOL can you tell I love desert? Next I would recommend a ferry ride to Staten Island and back. And finally I would suggest a picnic hang out in Fort Greene park in Brooklyn. If you have time visit MoMA or the Brooklyn Museum. They have timed entries and both have super strong shows up right now.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There really too many people to name… but I will say my family and friends deserve my shout out. If you need a specific name: Helen and Robert Evans (my parents). Not many parents are super supportive of their child becoming an artist. Mine encouraged me even when they weren’t sure it would work. (LOL I found out after my first museum show that they weren’t sure I would ever make it! – My mom slipped and told me they were relieved; I was shocked. hahahaha!)
Linkedin: I don’t check it… I’m there though. Ayana Evans
Youtube: ayanamariah https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj1xvSMzH-1cSdoKvCxc6EQ
Image of me doing jumping jacks in the street was taken by Bob Krasner outside of Cuchifritos Gallery in LES, NYC, 2018. Image of me rolling in the street was taken by Nicolas Dumit Estevez in Jamaica Queens, NY, 2018.