We spoke to Na Chainkua Reindorf, a Ghanian multimedia artist who dabbles in photography, painting, and sculpture. She talked us through her artistic process, the importance of storytelling, and how to be persistent when it comes to starting and finishing projects.
I am currently based in Binghamton NY, where I have been living and working for the past 3 years. I am from Ghana and began studying art seriously in high school. I then came to the US for a BA in studio art from a liberal arts college (Grinnell), and then got an MFA from Cornell, which also happens to be 45 minutes away from where I currently live. I maintained my art practice throughout school and after it as well. I have worked in various creative positions over the years all while simultaneously making art. While I was in high school, I did a couple of apprenticeships with local Ghanaian artists and participated in different workshops, which was how I got interested in textiles. In college I spent my summers interning at an architecture firm in London, and learned about design, bookmaking, scale-model building, material and site exploration. Whilst in graduate school I was a teaching assistant to various photography and drawing courses, both during the academic year and the summers. I also worked as a gallery assistant for a year during my time in grad school and briefly afterwards, before I decided to dedicate my time entirely to my art practice. All these experiences definitely helped shape who I am now and how I approach art making.
For the longest time, I have considered myself to be a textile artist, but as time has passed, I have taken a more honest look at my approach to my practice. I would call myself a multimedia artist, even though much of my work is rooted in textiles, my actual practice spans many medias including photography, painting and sculpture.
I grew up in a family that appreciates art. Our walls at home were, and still are, covered in art that my parents collected from local Ghanaian artists and artisans from around the world when they traveled for work. My aunt is a gallerist and my uncle is an architect. I had that art/design influence throughout growing up and I also had close family members to talk to about my interests. Living and breathing amongst the art pieces in the house I grew up in really inspired me, because I honestly thought it was so cool to be able to create works that brought joy and wonder to others. I wanted to be able to do something like that. I’ve always been interested in creation, I was making my own clothes and designing outfits for my friends in primary school. I was always trying to create something, so it did not come as much of a surprise when I decided that I wanted to become an artist.
My interest in textiles stems from my interest in clothing. I have always been fascinated with the idea of clothing being used to tell a story about someone or something. I am also interested in the way that clothing is regarded as being an extension of the self and can be used to create an entirely new identity. My grandmother had a sewing machine when I was really young, and whenever we visited my grandparents, I always went straight to the sewing machine, found a scrap of fabric and got sewing. In school I would write these stories about my friends and draw them with their own outfits because I was fascinated with the idea of creating a world that had characters with backstories. In high school, I took part in a workshop that focused on fabric dyeing techniques and was hooked. I wanted to know more about these techniques, and where they originated from. I wanted to know more about the fabrics, I became obsessed with traditional textiles in Ghana and their histories. I was interested in how Ghanaians, and West Africans by extension, used textiles to create identities and make statements, I was bewitched by the masquerade community that danced in the streets of Accra, and became so taken with their costumes and concealed identities. Then I also became interested in creating my own textiles from scratch, I was obsessed with this idea of building a piece of art that was created entirely by my hand. This is what became the foundation of my work when I finally came to the US for college. I focused on creating my own prints and imagery to tell stories with textiles and then over time my practice expanded to not only using textiles, but fibers, beads and a wider range of materials. Eventually I would create fictional storylines while highlighting the interesting histories of each of the materials I was using, and incorporate sculptural aspects so as to transform the spaces the art was in and make encountering my work more of an experience.
Something I learned from my advisor in grad school and which has stuck with me over the years is to learn how to not edit yourself. As a creative, you are going to come up with countless ideas and sometimes your first instinct is to not do it or start and stop halfway through because it doesn’t seem to be going how you planned. You owe it to yourself to see a project through, so that you can say: I tried and it didn’t work so on to the next one. Sometimes it is in finishing those half-done projects that a better more fully-fledged idea arises. Be open to everything, and don’t edit yourself.
I honestly just jumped into all of these mediums. I always told myself: It can’t be that hard! I asked a lot of questions, found books, used Google and YouTube. There is a lot of information on the internet and as I went into each exploration, it was imperative for me to maintain a sense of flexibility. I wanted to understand the basics of each medium I pursued just enough so that I was able to use my own creativity to problem-solve moving forward. Each medium plays a significant role in the work I’m making now. I knew that my practice was more about creating an encompassing experience than creating a piece of art, so by design, it made the most sense to incorporate a different media that would allow me to tell a story.
I wake up at 8AM and work out for 30-40 minutes. I am seated for the majority of my day, so it is important for me to get some exercise in before I begin working. Usually, I make myself a smoothie or have a couple of boiled eggs for breakfast. I am not really a breakfast person. I never wake up hungry, but I eat especially after working out to have enough energy to begin my workday. I live in the same building as my studio space, so I simply walk downstairs and turn on the lights, and begin working. I’m currently working on a collection of large-scale gouache paintings on watercolor paper. So, for the past couple of months, I have typically spent my day either stretching watercolor paper, sketching or painting. I listen to audiobooks as I paint to keep me entertained. I come up to sit outside in the sun on my lunch break, then I return for the second half of the day until I lose natural light. I prefer to work with natural light because I find that I am able to mix paint colors and paint more accurately when I can see what I am doing. Some days, if I have stretched my paper, and I am waiting for the paper to dry, I stay upstairs and do some writing.
I have always wanted to create a color transitioned feed, but never really knew how to go about it because I didn’t feel I had the right content to do it. I also found that many of the pages I was drawn to were becoming echo chambers, reposting the same “pinterested” images between themselves over and over again in pursuit of achieving a specific aesthetic. I am not comfortable with the idea of posting images that I don't own on my page. I also didn't want to have to go through the tedious motions of asking other creators for their consent so that I could repost their work, or worse still, go ahead with reposting and have to take it down at the original creator's request. My number one rule on my Instagram page was that everything I post has to be my own photograph to ensure total control over my page's content. And then the global pandemic hit, and with the stay at home orders in place, it was impossible to create content beyond the confines of my home. I visit a lot of art museums, galleries, art fairs and design showrooms in my free time, and because I find a lot of inspiration in these spaces especially with colors and materials that other artists and designers are using, I take a lot of pictures. As a result, I have thousands of pictures of art and design on my phone from visiting all these different institutions and art fairs. Because we couldn’t go outside, I resorted to digging through my archive and posting images from there instead (on my second Instagram account @chainkyr). After a few days, I realized just how much content I would be able to create from images I had amassed over the years, and how my clothes complemented the art and spaces I had photographed. I felt it was a great exercise to see how I could keep on creating content just using images from my archive without having to step foot outside. It is simultaneously very fun and challenging to do this so I am curious to see how long I can manage to keep this up.
I am definitely a night routine person. I am very ‘no fuss’ when it comes to routines, though. I always take a hot shower before I go to bed, and then use the CeraVe Body Moisturizing Cream on my body. It is odorless and really does well to keep my skin looking and feeling moisturized and healthy. I apply a few pumps of Glossier Solution into a cotton round and sweep it gently over my face, and then I put some CeraVe Moisturizer on my face and call it a day! I am more concerned with being able to take a shower before I go to bed and having a solid 8 hours of sleep.
I go to Instagram for a lot of my inspiration. I have a lot of saved folders made up of posts I am drawn to that show up either in my feed or on the explore page. I typically make a split-second decision about whether or not I like something, so I save it and don’t think too much about it. Once a week, I go into my folder to see what I have saved. This helps me understand and track my tastes. I am able to find common themes like color, material or shape and then in turn apply these themes to my own work through my own interpretation. I thoroughly enjoy visiting museums, galleries, design showrooms, and furniture stores in earnest. It's fascinating to see physical works, go up close to see what they are made of and more importantly how they are made. I do a lot of visual consumption. I take in a lot of details mostly on a subconscious level, which then shows up as a fully formed idea a few months later. So, I am basically open to any and everything that I encounter.
I would say a Pimm’s cup. It is the ultimate summer drink, and summer is when I am my best self. And it tastes great as well!