Na Chainkua Reindorf is currently based in New York State, where she has been expanding on her practice since earning an MFA a year ago. Raised in Ghana, her work addresses the history and traditions of her culture as well as sub-themes like gender, memory, and identity. Using materials and techniques associated with traditional craft, she questions the relationship and dialogue possible between that and contemporary art. Check out much more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am from Ghana, and am based in Upstate NY (Binghamton). I recently graduated from an MFA program at Cornell University. The majority of my practice is based on and around the lives of textiles. They are an important part of my culture, and I use my practice to investigate the different ways I can use textiles and fibers to tell stories about topics that interest me. I tend to make intricate sculptural pieces that take a really long time to complete, and I like to come up with new ways to approach practices like weaving and I develop alternative techniques like weaving directly into more contemporary materials like wire mesh, rather than a traditional loom to create new surfaces and textures. I think that the monotony and tedious nature of the work in itself is an important part of my practice and amplifies my own personal relationship with the art that I make.
Has your attitude or practice changed at all now that you’re pursuing your work outside of an MFA program?
It certainly has. I am now making work for a wider community that is not necessarily academic, or particularly invested in the theoretical framework that surrounds the work I am making. So in a sense, I am freer, but also, I am conscious about how I feel about the work myself. I need to be absolutely confident in the work standing on its own, while still having that relevance in a wider context, before I am comfortable enough to share with the public.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I grew up with parents that collected art. So I think, subconsciously, I also wanted to make work that was not only meaningful, but also brought beauty and color to people’s lives and homes.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I like to focus on themes like memory, culture, identity and gender. I am interested in the tension between art and craft, and I like to think my work intersects them.
What is your process like?
I plan EVERYTHING! But I like to be loose sometimes, so some unexpectedness finds its way into my work. I research histories, practices, culture, the news, etc so my work is relevant not just aesthetically, but also socially, culturally and politically. works can take from 2 weeks to 6 months to complete, depending on the scale and intricacy.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Being a non-American artist in America, I often have to deal with the dreaded problem of people not ‘getting’ my work due to cultural/national differences. I realized soon enough that, having passion for the work itself, and making it and having people see/interact with it and come up with their own interpretations is enough for me. Thats the beauty of art.
Have you experienced moments people not “getting” the work due to cultural differences? And were you or the other person/group/organization able to learn from it?
I actually had dealt with this problem more so during some studio critiques while I was in my MFA program. But when the work actually left my studio and was installed in the space, I found that there was only so much I could do. Actually discussing the work and how it was received with the audience in the gallery space was eye-opening and helped me with developing the work that came after it. For the most part, I realize that because textiles are probably some of the most common materials in the world, there seems to be this common place that people can identify as a starting point from which they form their opinions, and then their own experiences, memories and histories will help the audience arrive at their own conclusions about my work, and what it was doing for them. I learnt that this was enough for me. However, on many occasions, I would have people seek me out to enquire about the work, to find out a bit more about my thinking that went into it (Especially the more complex pieces), and this would be when I would explain the work in more detail. But first and foremost, the initial attraction to the work due to its visual properties is what I hope to establish first.
What is your studio like?
My studio is anywhere I find space honestly. My work often requires a comfortable chair and a table.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that help to get you into the mode to create?
I usually have house music playing, a good podcast (usually RadioLab) or some irreverent show like American Dad playing as background noise, and this helps get me through the more monotonous and tedious moments of creation. On many occasions, I have an idea, I sleep on it, and then I dream about it, which somehow helps me develop the idea into something more solid, before I get to the studio to make it tangible.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I have so many! For me, it can be losing passion for a project right in the middle of trying to finish it, having imposter syndrome (being black and female), looking at the scope of art that has ‘made it’ and trying to figure out how my own practice fits in, and also wondering if what I am doing is all for naught, and if it is even worth pursuing art in the first place.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Bold, textured and intricate
What are you working on right now?
I have been looking at African hairstyles and basket weaving techniques, and I am trying to develop a piece that borrows from these two visual languages.