Artist Janaya Nyala’s expressions of growth, fragility, and transformation
Janaya Nyala is a self identifying cis, queer, Afro-Latinx artist based in New York. Her work, equally serene, captivating, hypnotic and political, represents the nuances of Black identity and culture. After developing an online friendship and working with her for the cover art for my EP, I felt the world should also see the versatility of her artistic representations. I sat down with Janaya and interviewed her on her artistic intent and image making process. By prioritizing her own experiences and her understandings of the world around her, Janaya centers Black identity and culture in visual discourse as a form of resistance.
What does an Afro-Latinx identity mean to you? How do you embody it?
Janaya Nyala: I am fully Panamanian, both my parents were raised there and speak Spanish. That being said, I have had quite a difficult time feeling like I belonged to the Afro-Latinx community because I am not fluent in the language. For some people in the Latinx community, that is a huge character flaw and something that is looked down upon (in my experience).
As I’ve gotten older, I have tried to compensate for this by diving into other parts of the Latinx community. I know how to make some BOMB patacones, I listen to a good amount of Spanish music, and a lot of the movies I watch are in Spanish (with subtitles…sometimes).
I am starting to realize that the Afro-Latinx culture is so complex, there are so many different experiences, there is no one way that Afro-Latinx looks like and my experience is no less valid. So to answer the question…I don’t know, I’m still working on it.
How do identity politics and intersectionality intersect with your artistic practice?
Janaya Nyala: If I am being honest, intertwining politics into my artwork has never been on purpose. I just feel the need to reflect how I’m feeling about myself and my surroundings, and more often than not, it is related to Black culture.
In this climate, being Black is politicized, or so it feels, I aim to bring Black identity and culture to the center of discourse. I have also created queer art in my past, and even then, it was always for myself. I believe I make what I make for my own sake, and also representation (whether I am painting a a Black man, a lesbian couple, etc).
What are some of the motifs that you have included in your most recent work?
Janaya Nyala: The main motif in my most recent work is the butterfly. It represents so many things: growth, femininity, fragility, beauty, transformation, ephemerality. There’s so much to be unpacked with this motif and I like to leave it up to interpretation.
How has the resurgence of protesting for Black Lives Matter influenced your work, if at all?
Janaya Nyala: The subject matter of my work has always been relatively the same, but I think now I realize the importance of the subject matter: highlighting Black lives, culture and beauty is literally a form of resistance. It has definitely lit a fire under me to create with a sense of urgency and out of necessity.
How did the quarantine period impact you as an artist?
Janaya Nyala: The quarantine period made me both restless and calm as an artist. Because of it I set up a small online art shop and taught myself how to make things like stickers and prints but it also taught me how to find meditation within making art.
Your work takes different forms and mediums. What mediums do you use? What does art curation mean to you? Are you aiming to represent your community, or are you aiming to hold a mirror to your community to talk about certain realities?
Janaya Nyala: I primarily paint with oil and acrylic, or through a digital medium. I have also dabbled with making poetry and art zines. I am definitely aiming to represent my community through a communal lens and not through the gaze of the outside world.
Our world has tried to convince us that Black people are not the blueprint, when we always have been. I aim to create work that people can relate to and be inspired by because they see themselves in it.