Questions with Beijing-based Sierra Leonean Artist, Nenah Ada Yang

Nenah Ada Yang is a Sierra Leonean-born artist who has lived in Beijing for the past few years. She migrated to China from Freetown, to start a new life with husband and renowned artist Yang Yan. Within a short time, she has made a name for herself as an established artist and has showcased her work at various art galleries across China and several embassies around the world. We got a chance to interview her to learn a little more about her philanthrophic work and her life in Beijing.

Nenah with husband Yang Yan

Hi Nenah, first of all how did you and your husband meet?
I met my husband at the national stadium in Freetown when Sierra Leone was celebrating its 50th year independence.

But before we met, got married and moved to China, he had been searching for a black girl to marry. About 20 years ago, he saw a wooden sculpture of an African women at a friend’s gallery. He requested for the sculpture but his friend refused to give it to him. He vowed that one day he will have his own living sculpture- a woman that looks exactly like the statue. He mentioned this to several people. He traveled to more than 50 countries searching for a wife but never succeeded. After several failed matches, my husband took a trip to Sierra Leone. While on a flight going to Freetown, he met a Sierra Leonean guy named Hamza, they became fast friends and stayed at the same hotel in Freetown. I happen to visit a friend of mine who is also friends with Hamza and finally met my husband through that visit.


How long have you been in China?
2 years now.


What did you know about China before you went? How did you envisage your life would be?
I knew very little about China. All I knew about was Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Kung fu. I was hoping to be an accountant, a model or an actress.


Was it hard to adjust to your new life? How much different was it to Freetown?
It was very hard.  There are several differences. I love China and all her cultures but every day at the shops, taxi, street, the people of China brought tears to my eyes which made me miss Sierra Leone a lot. I have experience quite a bit of racism. I have experienced name calling. When they see a black people, They will spit on the floor, laugh at you. They called me  ‘black ghost’ and lots of evil names. Taxi drivers will leave you out on the street and take white people instead. Traders will shout at you to leave their stores.

There really aren’t any jobs for friendship. It was hard. I have learnt to grow some love for China and the people because of the love I have for my husband.


I’m saddened to hear about your experiences and glad that you are making the best of your situation. What do you miss about Freetown?
I miss my beautiful cultures and traditions, the good food my mum used to prepare, my friends from schools and community, our beautiful climate weather condition.  I miss the way I grew up very different from the way I’m leaving now. I miss lots of things when I first came, but now I’m trying very hard to get used to the my new life.

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In such a short time, you have become fluent in Mandarin. You are also skilled in several Chinese art forms including peking opera, calligraphy and playing the guqin. How did you manage to pick these up effortlessly and which artform do you prefer?
As China has now become my permanent home, I adopted the belief that I must study harder in order to live a happy life with my family. I learn new things day by day but my main area is the painting, because my husband is a great artist here.

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Do you use any inspiration from your hometown when creating your artwork?
I wanted my works to be in an international medium to promote peace, love and unity so I painted a couple of trees that have existed for about thousands of years back. They are fixed together in a town called Mian Yang, and to keep the memory of how i grew up in my beloved home town, I decided to add mangoes.



Where else do you find inspiration for your artwork?
Through my husband. He is a great artist and a great teacher too. He has won many awards for his work in China and was the art advisor for the olympics in England 2012. I find inspiration in the way he paints. It has made me grow to love painting.


Are there any artists that influence you?
Yes. My husband. You will never know how great and good he is until you stay with him. He is smart and experienced.

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You recently gave birth to your son. Has your art making process changed since having him?
Yes. Because many people said a lot of negative things about me and my husband – They thought our relationship wouldn’t last and I was not utilizing all of my happiness in painting. With the baby now, I feel like no one can separate me and my husband, so I’m rest assured and paint with all my heart. My baby is so handsome and every day I see him, I feel like my whole world is complete. I feel like helping out people in need, I fell like praising the Almighty Allah for his blessings, guidance and protection.


Where do you see your life in 5 years time?
I see my life with 5 kids, 2 boys 2 girls plus my husband who is the eldest one.


What can we expect from Nenah Ada Yang?
Well I just did the international cultural festival in Beijing, I recently opened a new international space station for displaying arts and cultural products from different countries. I organize events to donate to the disabled, sick and less fortunate people in China. I also donate to Africa. I’m currently working on a project to create more jobs for the unemployed. I’ve tried a lot to educate the Chinese about African culture and I will continue to educate them because I don’t want our children to suffer. I have plans to on opening a tourist center in Sierra Leone in the near future.


Do you have any exhibitions planned?

I planned to do exhibitions before the end of the year in Africa, the United States and some parts in Europe.


Any hopes to take your artwork to Africa? Worldwide?
Yes. I’ve had my work displayed in Africa by some embassies and the Sierra Leonean president. I also get interest from collectors from around the world.

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Where can people learn more about you? and on Facebook- Queennak Koroma. My personal website is coming soon

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