Interview with Layqa Nuna Yawar

Layqa Nuna Yawar is a public artist and multidisciplinary storyteller based in the ancestral lands of the Lenni-Lenape: current day Newark, NJ. His work is best known for large scale community-based murals, intricate portrait paintings and multimedia projects that center the complex narratives of immigrant, black, indigenous and subaltern populations. His work has been recently commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Munich Airport NJ, in partnership with Public Art Fund and can be permanently found at the new Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport. His collaborative work is also now on view at MoMA PS1 in New York City. The following is our interview with him about his life and work in Newark.

The Newarker: Where are you from?

Yawar: I am part of Abya Yala. I was born in the south and now live in the north. 

The Newarker: How would you describe your art?

Yawar: I would describe my work as a series of private conversations happening in public space. I make paintings and visual narratives. I use the language of signs and symbols in order to communicate and change conversations. Those signs and symbols can live on canvas or as large scale murals, installations sculptures, quick marks on a wall, on protest banners or online as digital paintings or tiny little pictures that live on your phone. Either way, the goal is to communicate stories, to create questions, to have people react and engage, or to offer them a moment of beauty, a bit of rest from the grayness that can take over cities. 

the reflective black body (2015)

The Newarker: Any idea of what your next projects might be?

Yawar: Most of my work is long term and involved, sometimes taking years before I can publicly mention or even make the work. So I have some things coming up but nothing I can share now. At the moment I am very much looking forward to resting. Resting is under appreciated in our hyper capitalist culture, which is so unfair because creatives need time. Time to think, to feel, or to do nothing but digest experiences. Resting is doing. The current need for a constant stream of content creation is also stressful for creatives as currently, interaction literally translates to money – money meaning survival. For a very long time I made art and worked on projects because of this drive to survive, to be able to pay rent, to eat. I am very grateful for this work because it got me to a place where I can choose to rest, at least for a moment – to allow myself to say no and to create from a place not of survival, but a place of desire and joy. So I am looking forward to whatever I make next that moves me and drives me enough to pick up a brush and paint again. 

Photo by Chrystofer Davis

The Newarker: Where are some of your favorite places in Newark to hang out and why?

Yawar: I enjoy lots of friend’s businesses and creative spaces, because of that familiarity and the shared history. I am also happy to see so many new spaces and businesses opening up, which is always needed and encouraging. But I think my favorite places to hang out in Newark are public spaces like Branch Brook Park or Riverfront Park. There is also an energy I get from being at Broad and Market, near my studio, or walking down Ferry Street near Penn Station ~ that I really enjoy and sort of need to be grounded. When I first moved to Newark, my favorite spaces were abandoned buildings where I could break into with friends and explore. Seeing old majestic theaters or hidden bowling lanes, or old faded murals.  

Una gota rompe la piedra (2018)

The Newarker: Tell us something about you (or your work) that few people know.

Yawar: So I started this journey of public art by trying out graffiti around West New York, Weehawken and Jersey City – I was horrible at it so didn’t even try doing letters or bombs but instead tried simple line drawings. To this day it fills my heart with joy when I can see those first attempts still out there, or even better, when I see the buff covering them (laughs).

You can find more of Layqa Nuna Yawar’s work at his official website

Featured photo by Chrystofer Davis