Lady in The Cat Suit
By. Megan Curet
Performance Art by definition is, visual art that combines dramatic performance. Whether she is sporting her own custom shirt, tag lined “I Just Came Here to Find a Husband”, or doing jumping jacks in the middle of ongoing traffic in New York City for two hours in a cat suit printed unitard. Yana Evans is doing just that.
Her own form combines her Mid-Western subtly and years of visual artistic upbringing. Brown alumni Evans, is quickly climbing the performance art food chain and has a bone or two to pick about body shaming, equality for performance artist and what creates the blurring line between what is dance and what is performance art?
With her voluptuous features, and political aim she is highlighting what we fetishize about the black female body and challenging our perspective. Whether she is posting her next YouTube video footage, or running around the streets of Philadelphia or New York City, Evans is undoubtedly here. She is here to perform, to create, to change your perspective and while she is at it, to find a husband.
Over teatime in her cozy Manhattan apartment nestled into the chaos of Times Square I begged the first question, which is an ongoing debate even amongst my peers and myself as a dance makers.
MC: With dance holding on to codified ideals, by defining what is and what is not by names we are most familiar with. Why do you think, we still define dance as only Ballet, Modern or other “forms”, while still maintaining a grip on dividing performance art from the genre?
YE: I mean technically, they are one in the same category, and I do feel like it is not a one-way street. I feel both sides resist this blur, this blurring of the lines between the two. Even from performance artists, I have heard “that’s too dance, to be performance art” and with judgment. Then there are dance calls for experimental work, and then you get the rejection letter because you do not fit the criteria enough, of dance. There is constant equal resistance, so where do you go?
MC: Is it possible that the resistance stems from two groups of people who do not know enough about the other form? We have performance art and dance, but how much do participants from either genre really know of the other?
YE: Absolutely. They don’t know each other nearly enough. Then there is another problem for performance artist, they haven’t quite figured out how to monetize the work yet. So we also have that dividing factor. Unlike a dancer, you could be relatively well known in performance art and be completely poor. Like you have to be a “Marina”, to make money, the gap is that wide. So performance artists are just now starting to come around to figuring that part out as well.
We are for a fact at the bottom of the artist food chain, undoubtedly. But as far as I know, most performance artist really do not get involved because of the money and unfortunately that gets taken advantage of. So there is a gap but performance art is really coming into at the moment, as a whole, with so much to refigure.
MC: So from what I gather, your background was in visual arts before this, what brought you to cross over to such a risk taking creative field?
YE: Well I first quit visual art for six years and went into fashion. I started to make handbags but then I was sick of it. I like fashion, but there is a level to selling bags that will simply never satisfy your artistry. Every year you have to make a black bag because that’s what is going to sell. And if you are not going to make the black bag because you don’t feel like it…well you aren’t going to eat because that is what basically sells. There wasn’t a political or visual challenge and it didn’t feed me internally.
So I went back to art, but I didn’t want to paint anymore. So I started from scratch, to find my way back into the art scene. I just started to go to art shows, and I just stumbled upon performance.
In the city there are only a few underground hubs for performance art, so basically you go to one or two, to get on the scene. So I went and I was blown away. After visiting all of these shows, and investigating for almost a year, I started the #operationcatsuit on a whim.
There was no grand plan and it wasn’t supposed to be something that went on for so long. I just had this idea, of wouldn’t it be dope if you could wear what ever you wanted and just show up to a place?
MC: #operationcatsuit basically kick started your career. So what was it like on your first trip while in a cat suit, in public?
YE: The first video was edited down to something like twenty minutes after we walked around for an hour. I almost wanted to give up and then we looked at the footage, and people were engaged and in it. At first I thought this was cool, and then it quickly became heartbreaking.
The amount of people just taking pictures of my butt and people talking behind my back on film was astonishing. There was no precise pattern; but I was not expecting it to be mostly white women taking pictures of my butt.
MC: So then what triggered the political format you also engage with in your art?
YE: Well it was the first time out on the street, because it was so black and white, about race and my body. Not just my body of course, this was about the black female body. I also knew that if I ‘d been skinny the response would have been different all around. I could not believe people still had this fascination with the black butt.
We see it on TV everyday of course, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Lopez and these women who have made careers because of their bodies. However you do not assume that people would stop and take a photo of you and your body on their cellphones. Let alone other women.
It started as something I wanted to be about fashion, about creating a black body that stood out, in a neon cat suit. This quickly changed after the first video because so many other aspects of the black female body then come into play. Right then and there it became political for me and I had to shift the focus immediately.
MC: After the spontaneous success in the last six months, where do you see the projects going next?
YE: The most recent project was with the Barnes Foundation; I had a budget, which was already an upgrade. I ran around Philadelphia wearing the husband sign, in my cat suit and filming. Then quickly edited the following day and on the third day presented the project at a tea party in the Atrium at Curtis Center. My body was projected on a large screen while people around had places to sit and eat. I was presiding over the event as the main guest.
After a while I might just not do this particular project anymore, because it can’t be done the same way anymore. Last time I tried to do the operation cat suit, someone came up to me and asked, “Are you video taping this?” So the element has changed because they had seen the YouTube video.
MC: With the evolution of your career, what would you say your mission is now as a performance artist?
YE. It’s weird but no one has ever asked me that. I guess it’s to make people see things differently. The way I see performance art, is through the strangeness but immediacy in which it allows you to see someone or something in a different way. I find that simple act important. Allow someone to see something in a way they thought they always knew or understood, but now it is completely different, everything is different.