Nana Ghana is a legend in the making. With her statuesque body, unmissable hair usually worn large and natural as well as one of the most infectious smiles, it’s hard not to notice such a charismatic presence in the room. My first encounter was when I saw her at the TerryWorld opening at the then OHWOW gallery. She sauntered onto the step and repeat with a bottle of Dom in her hand and posed topless safe for an American flag. A long time muse and collaborator of James Franco, she has recently been on a creative rampage producing works dear to her heart. Her first venture was an experimental documentary called LA Woman Rising that featured the morning process off 50 eclectic LA women. Recently she refocused and produced a short film called “Water Warrior” that was accepted and premiered at the Cannes Film festival. The film is a meditation of the duality of cultural expression as well as the droughts that have faced LA and Ghana. I had tea with her before her flight to Cannes to discuss the drought, art, spirituality and the perceptions of color.
LF: So where did this project come from, it was the drought right?
NG: I wanted to highlight the performance. A trend of how African artist gets discovered from the internet by this American art dealer. LA Woman Rising was my first film and I made all the mistakes there, now with Cannes recognition it’s like “you are a director now”. I met Serge (Attukwei) in Malibu at an artist event, before meeting him I had actually read about him on the internet. This African artist and I thought he was so powerful. So when I met him and his message, it really just connected to me in a big way.
LF: What was your understanding about the drought outside of the Californian context?
NG: Growing up in Ghana I understood the scarcity of water. As a little girl one of my chores was to collect water and store it before i went to school, because we don’t have it flowing as we do in America or Europe. What I noticed was living abroad water just flows, there is some misuse. So for me meeting Serge was my transportation to shed light on this particular thing that is very personal to me. I believe it as an over all theme as a human being must be considered. That water is something that connects us all as humans and we have to take care of it, we must not misuse it. When you are brushing your teeth don’t have the fucking water running. I’m thinking that there should be some care with it for the generation coming next.
LF: How did it relate to the LA art world? I understood it as something have to do with the drought of creativity.
NG: Exactly and for me, the antagonist being the art world was to show the lack of spirituality. The spiritual drought thatches characters were facing. My character Aisha, she’s going through a spiritual drought and thats why meeting Serge quenches her thirst. Because literally and metaphorically, he is an African artist he understands. Through his work he is bringing awareness to conservation of water, but also he quenches her spiritual drought by being from her country and reminding her of whats really true, her roots. She doesn’t really have her roots she kind of meditates, she lives in this beautiful house with her art dealer boyfriend Damien (Garret Dillahunt).
LF: How did the other characters spiritualism relate to the art and culture clash?
NG: Garret Dillahunt has been in all these movies 12 Years a Slave, No Country of Old Men, all these wonderful cult films. He has played the bad guy and for me Damien’s character was based on seeing Garret’s performances and seeing how he can be cold and ruthless. For me this Damien character really embodies my own personal experiences from the art world. Cynthia (Murell)’s character Sherry is the art gallerist, through her I want to show the cultural differences and how one could see a black male artist and how she makes and immediate difference between him not being the expected black character. When you see a black man on screen or black artist its like gangster archetype. Serge is a different archetype, a trope we haven’t seen before. For me Sherry embodies that want to relate to a foreign person. She wants to connect, but she has seen all the wrong things. Thats a trope I wanted to create to broaden the conversation that maybe she isn’t racist.
LF: Thats a color conversation for something beyond African-American – it’s African.
NG: And thats something we haven’t seen before and thats why Cannes might have responded to this piece in this way. I watch it now and I see all these layers in it. Layers and layers and layers. All these characters have a moment of clarity, all their thirst has been quenched.