Ayana Evans

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Ayana Evans
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NationalityNew york
EducationTyler School of Art
Alma materBrown University

Ayana M. Evans -- nicknamed Yana -- was raised in Chicago, IL but is based in New York City. A performance artist who started off as a painter, Evans received her MFA in painting from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and her BA in Visual Arts from Brown University. Nowadays, Evans is best known for “Operation Catsuit” and “I Just Came Here to Find a Husband” -- on-going public performances and interventions.[1]

Career Motives and Influences

Evans initially intended to be a painter. With performance art, however, she felt more enabled to confront “people who are unaware of their classism, people who are unaware of their racism, people who really don’t support black women, people who have a lot of gender bias and don’t support trans women, people who I think just need their eyes opened a little more” (2020).[2] And so, Evans centers and focuses her work around the intimate stories of black womanhood, exploring the “intricacies of my life; as an individual and as a social being who is: a woman, a Black American woman, a light skin Black American woman, a light skin black American woman from Chicago, blah blah blah. You get the idea”.[3]

On June 19, 2020, The New York Times published “What It Takes to Raise a Black Women Up,” centered around Evans and her art, her “grueling, yet nuanced performances using her own body to help audiences understand what black women often face”. In an interview with Anna Mikaela Ekstrand, Evans reveals that her practices hold a lot of anger and pain directed at a lot of different things, like racism, sexism, being treated or paid poorly at work, or the institutionalized art world’s marginalization of performance and performance artists.[4]

Evans also gains a lot of influence from her parents and family history. Her mother grew up in Alabama and her father (who suffers from Parkinson’s disease), Mississippi. Their Southern influences can be seen in the way Evans speaks -- with a lilt.[2] In the same interview with Ekstrand, Evans says that in her work, she also shows a lot of anger, resentment, and pain for “what happened in my family as slaves, as black people who had overcome so much just to be what is considered ‘normal’ by American financial standards”. [4] In the performances themselves, that anger, pain, and resentment -- regardless of the source -- can be seen through yelling, acting bossy, etc.

“...so much of what I do or have done in my career moves away from big parts of my life,” Evans says in the interview with Ekstrand. Even though she often steers away from formalism and traditional career pathways when it comes to painters and designers, color theory, texture, and fashion are still big parts of her life.

thumb|Ayana Evans in Catsuit[2]|link=Special:FilePath/Merlin_173469351_2c8d6a09-74a7-41ad-bd0c-bcc519138a5d-superJumbo.jpg]]

Why the Catsuit?: “Operation Catsuit”

From her website, under Artist Statement: “My Operation Catsuit persona is me being 100% me. My hope is that this encourages others to be 100 % themselves. Both within and outside of the Operation Catsuit series I often perform solo durational actions like jumping jacks and high kicks in heels for 2-3 hours at a gallery with a full face of makeup or push-ups in heels in an intersection. These performance actions are designed to highlight the repercussions of racism and misogyny, as well as the power of a woman taking up space in ways that are traditionally reserved for cis straight men in the United States.” [5]

In 2012, Evans found the catsuit at a designer friend’s sample sale. It was one of the only things that fit her well and so, became her art scene uniform, her recognizable trademark. She says that there is an aspect to her wearing the neon catsuit that is about self-acceptance and confidence. [2]

What's Next?

In 2021, Evans will be co-curating and performing in an intergenerational performance series at the National Portrait Gallery. [4]


  1. "Performance Art | Ayana Evans". ayanamevans.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named auto
  3. "Ayana Evans, Author at Cultbytes".
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Ayana Evans in Conversation with Anna Mikaela Ekstrand". FOA.
  5. "Artist Statement". ayanamevans.

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