California native, now Brooklyn based artist, costume designer, prop designer, set designer, stylist, dancer, photographer, and image consultant, Nai Vasha stays in motion and moves with purpose. She has created for Chromat, Fruition Las Vegas, Stussy, Aegir Boardworks, Xochi Menswear, Defsound, Ana Lola Roman, Rock Jacobs Film, J*Davey, ReInspire Brooklyn, Nicole Medoro, Frankie Presley, Rocksmith and more. We met up at Union Square in NYC to talk life, people, career, and where she’s headed. We got to work with Nai at our Summer Soul Sessions July Edition, where she projected images over So Super Sam’s set that had the party people and Paperbox and CS staff wondering why we couldn’t all just walk around with our own projection artwork around us everywhere we went? Life would would be so colorful and certainly more thought provoking.
Who are you?
Nai Vasha Collette Thomas
Do you know where you got your name from?
My name is a Lake in Kenya. My father was a missionary. And… he brought back that name for his first born. And that’s where I got my name
Do you remember what type of stuff you where doing when you realized you were being creative? Crayons, drawings…?
You know what?… I would do my own interview sessions or cooking shows, or I was teaching someone a course, and I would talk to myself. I would do that all the time and thought I had an issue. Yeah I’m gonna teach you how to cook pasta. And I’d have fake food, and a camera on me, and I would go through the whole process of making something I didn’t know how to make. My mom was like, “you’re reeeeally creative.” She said that with the same look I have on my face now, because she didn’t know what to do with me. Through that they put me into theater, acting, dancing, modeling, pageants and all that fun stuff. My parents always had me performing. My father worked at a prison. He was the community resource manager and event coordinator. So, his events would be to bring his kids to the prison and perform for the inmates.
[shocked smiling face]
When did it switch and become more focused? I know you do a lot of different things but is your main thing photography now?
No. I know it’s weird to say this but my main thing is just being me. No one really owns that. I’m just a bigger person than what I do. There’s messages in the kind of work I’m doing and how I see things. I know I’m an anomaly with [the work.] I don’t see things the way most people do. I sit, and dwell, and concentrate on what the message is, what the purpose is, and put that out through my art. I didn’t figure that out until I left Vegas in 2009. I was doing makeup out there, still doing some acting, and merchandising for stores. I did a little bit of everything out there trying to get all of the hours in to become a master. I’m not a master at anything yet. It takes a lot of hours to become a master. Still working at it, you know? I’m getting there. But in Vegas I just realized I’m really good at just being me. I call it mood coordinating. Making things come to life.
Did the photography then come from training or was that self taught?
I took photography classes in college. Then I played with the camera and didn’t know what I was doing and just became more comfortable with it. I started shooting look books for stores in Vegas. Then just shooting friends… I like to keep myself very active. If I ever have idle time I get really crazy and anxious and I have to do something. It’s always been like that. So photography just came as, alright I have a camera and I’m going to use it. So when I’m sitting on equipment, materials, even paint and pens, and I’m not using it, I get upset with myself, because I’m like, this is the reason why I’m not propelling in life. It’s because I’m not using all my resources. So that’s where photography came in, all of it, all of my art. I have these tools, I have a mind, so let me put these things together.
What took you to these other areas like merchandising?
I started shooting intimate photography of family and friends, [and] look books. Then I started taking a more intimate approach, like with things that I enjoyed, like the female body. I enjoy the body period. when I look at photos of bodies, it’s usually extremely sexual, grotesque, and dirty. It’s really raunchy, and I don’t wanna be raunchy. I actually think we’re really beautiful, we should enjoy our forms, what we’re made of. I love people and what we look like. I am one of those people that thinks everyone is beautiful and everyone has something great to offer, and that you shouldn’t hate yourself. And that came working as a makeup artist. I would work in makeup and listen to these women complain about what they look like every day, and I hated it. I hated making other people look “better” because they hated themselves. So I wanted to focus on the beauty off people, and touch into perfect imperfections. If people understood that, there wouldn’t be this off put feeling about sex and bodies. We would be able to look at pictures of breasts and be like, oh that’s cool
Do you feel like you’re in conflict with these ideas because you work in an industry that pumps the image of the perfect woman?
Definitely. I think though every circumstance, every job I take I say, OK, what do I hate about this and how can I change it? And that’s what I’m doing. Even the merchandising for Forever 21, what they would highlight and exploit I wasn’t into. I was like, most women don’t wanna look like this. You’re the ones giving them clothing, you’re the ones feeding the masses. If you told women that skirts down to their ankles and turtlenecks where the thin this fall and that’s all they had to buy, they’d probably buy that. that’s the way it is, they’re influencing people. Most people are stuck in this. That’s the way the world is. I fucking hate that! It’s not how it is, it’s what you make it.
So what are you getting into now? What are you working on?
Right now, I’m leaving to Vegas to do an installation for Stussy, and some creative retail branding for them. I’m also going out there to shoot a mini movie/music project with Jack Davey of J*Davey. She’s putting out a solo project, through our team illav8r, which is a growing artist development with Defsounds, [others], and myself included. I’m also going to do a solo show while I’m out there. Just waiting on location. I did a solo show out there last year where I took my clothes off in front of people and showed a lot of my photography and asked people to take off their layers, to take off their characters.
And people actually stripped down?
Yeah, I had the heat on really high inside too. It was all a social experiment. I’m into social experiments too so that I can learn to be better at my work. So I turned the heat up and told everyone to take their clothes off. Some of the girls were like, ok, I’ll take my shirt off. They guys took their shirts off. I got undressed for the most part. It was awesome.
uhh… I don’t know where to go on this interview. You got that image in my head
Uhhh. No, I’m sorry…. So you’ve got the show in Vegas… Yeah… Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now… You know, I go back and forth with the idea of moving to the middle of nowhere. Honestly, things are not in my control five months from now. I make a list every year on my birthday, which I consider the new year. I celebrate new years on my birthday and I make a list of the things I want to accomplish and just make sure I do, that’s it. That’s really my plan.
So there are really no long term plans?
Yeah. To be me! To give everything that I have. Projects just show up out of nowhere, so… to finish those. I’m at the age where my family pressures me to have a family, and sometimes I have those things in my head. But if you ask me about a 5 year plan, I have no clue. Technically, I’m supposed to be popping out babies, but I’m not ready for that. But if it happens it happens. I’m really open to anything.
Do you have your parents support, or do they push you towards domesticating yourself or building a family?
She just wants a kid from me because she thinks I’m awesome. My mom has 4 daughters, 2 have 3 kids, why do you need kids from me? I gave her a dog. Take the dog, you’ll be fine. But they support me. They don’t understand what I’m doing. But they never really have. They do support me, they’re proud of me. I’ve always had this idea to seek enlightenment and go do my own thing. I had it when I was 12. I was like, ‘Yo I’m moving out.’ My mom was like, ‘No you’re not.’ I’m like, ‘I’m gonna go do my own thing.’ She didn’t let me leave until I was 17, but I never really looked back after that. I just moved and did everything on my own.
And now you live in Brooklyn. How long have you been there? What’s your relationship like with Brooklyn?
Almost 3 years. I love Brooklyn! I love where I live. I moved into an amazing building. It’s just like, alright, I’m home. I don’t know where else I’m going. The city’s cool but it’s business here. It’s like an amusement park. You come here, you get what you need, you have fun, you go home. Where I’m at they’re gentrifying the whole area. Seeing the change is amazing, and I can only imagine what the people living there their whole lives feel. I went out of town for four months and came back, and there was a macaroni and cheese spot around the corner, and doughnuts, and I’m like, cool, we’re coming up. And now we have a homeless man. There really must be money in the neighborhood.
What else are you working on?
NV: I’m working on a book, and a coloring book called Cannon to the Left of Him. [The coloring book] is about us being puppets to the media. I can speak on that all day on a mountaintop. I just wish people would wake up and realize who’s controlling their lives, and their fate. It’s really sad to me that there are enough leaders and activists who can meet everyone’s needs. But people aren’t listening to those freedom fighters. They’re too busy with their headphones.
So you think music has a bigger influence on people than art or film?
Yes. It’s repetitive. It’s only a few minutes long… Hold on I gotta watch this lady walk… she’s awesome……….. alright… I’m done… You know, you put it in your headphones. It’s with you every day. I’m a victim to it too. I’m just starting to understand the power it has over my mind. People think they can watch porn and not be affected by it, yeah you are. Anything you come in contact with you’re affected by. You will take something with you. So if you listen to the same shit every day, whether it be good music, or bad, you’re embedding someone else’s thoughts into yours. A good stanza, or a line, or 16 bars may sound really great, but if you practice that as your lifestyle you become [a part of that brand.]
I just wanna walk around, wear a white leather glove, and smack people and say, Wake Up! Who are you? Whats your purpose? Not your occupation or what you look like, any of that shit. What is your purpose? Why are you here? That’s what’s most important.
Follow Nai Vasha’s website here.