Artist Nina Chanel Abney Plays 20 Questions With Tierra Whack

Nina Chanel Abney

Nina Chanel Abney, photographed by Jesper Damsgaard Lund.

“Follow me to the Principal’s Office,” bellows a calm and collected voice leading us out of the “Little Boy’s Room” of a 30,000 sq. ft. former high school-turned cultural center, where bold colors and Cubist-inspired geometrics arrest our gaze. But what appeared to be a dizzying joyride through The School guided by the warm embrace of Nina Chanel Abney and Jack Shainman on the opening day of Abney’s new exhibition LIE DOGGO also rumbled with agitation—a Black figure mounted on the wall serves a platter of mammillary molds simultaneously functioning as missiles; a painting titled Marabou depicts dollar signs, canes, and X’s superseding the chests of bodies giving birth; an avatar of a white police officer performs a Fortnite emote.

The exhibition, on view now at The Jack Shainman Gallery in Kinderhook until October 5, is a celebration of Abney’s works across mediums, including painting, mural, sculpture, and interactive digital art. Over the phone last week, Abney let out a sigh of relief with the rapper and singer Tierra Whack, who she endearingly calls her little sis. “The show felt really special,” the artist said, “because I did stay true to myself and navigate my feelings around what’s happening in the world in a way where I didn’t feel censored.” After visiting Abney’s new show, Whack, whose most recent album WORLD WIDE WHACK explores similar notions of power, surveillance, and censorship played a round of 20 questions with the artist, picking her brain about favorite breakfasts, surviving in a jungle Naked and Afraid-style, and the Freaky Friday-style swap that could lead to Abney’s rap debut.–LILY KWAK 


TIERRA WHACK: What’s up, Nina?


WHACK: It’s me, your biggest fan.

ABNEY: Yeah, how’re you doing?

WHACK: I’m doing good. Tired. Yo so, first off I got to say, congratulations on an absolutely fantastic show. I’m so proud, so honored to call you a friend. You better call me your friend too, because I’ll be claiming you. 

ABNEY: We’re cousins for real.

WHACK: No, no, really. We’re family. But I got the opportunity to see the work and work in progress, and I still couldn’t believe it. I knew you had it, but it’s unbelievable. We were talking about the show the whole way back from Kinderhook. Me and my friends were like, “Yo, she really put it together. It was a masterpiece.” I was talking to you throughout the process and I knew that you were stressed, but it came together so effortlessly.

ABNEY: The end product always looks effortless, but we know the craziness behind it.

WHACK: Yeah. The whole setup was perfect. Each room I was walking into, I would get stuck for a while. I can’t even tell you my favorite. All the pieces stand on their own. I love the colors, the textures, the painted aluminum. Seeing the sculptures was insane. I’m like, “Yo, I want everything in my house.” That’s how I feel. Even when I was posting on Instagram, people were like, “Yo, where is this?” I kept telling everybody, if you think it’s crazy on camera, in person, it’s even better. So yeah, I am blessed to know you, honestly. But I do want to get into the wordplay. I love all the titles… Miss Opportunity and Sea & Seized. How do you name your pieces?

ABNEY: Well, I title everything at the end, but I try to keep a sense of humor, so it’s like artwork in itself. For Miss Opportunity, that piece is kind of like a pageant. When I was trying to paint the sashes, I was looking up references and I found these sashes that said “Miss Behave” and played off the words. 

WHACK: You know I love that. 

ABNEY: I didn’t even clock it with your song [“MS BEHAVE”] until you posted. I was like, “Oh, it’s perfect.”

Nina Chanel Abney

Installation view, Nina Chanel Abney, LIE DOGGO, 2024. The School | Jack Shainman Gallery, 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY. Artwork © Nina Chanel Abney. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Dan Bradica Studio.

WHACK: Yeah, it’s perfect. And people will probably think that we did that on purpose. Sea & Seized was fire. That’s one of my favorite pieces. Your color palettes are always just impeccable. How long ago did you create it?

ABNEY: I want to say, two years ago? It was part of a body of work that initially started for The Gordon Parks Foundation. I was responding to these photographs that Gordon Parks had taken at different fishing docks and markets. 

WHACK: I was stuck on that piece for a long time. My friends were trying to get me to move along. I’m like, “Yo, it’s just something about it. I want to know more.” Overall, The School is just a fun house. I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted everything.

ABNEY: It is a fun house at first glimpse, but it’s really the first time I put on a show this big to show my work across different mediums. 

WHACK: The sculptures need to be out in the world, for sure. We got to see 10 foot Nina Chanel everywhere. I’m talking about furniture, outside, indoor, everywhere. It’s groundbreaking. You continue to push boundaries and everything still feels so true to you. That’s the great thing about being an artist, there’s no box, no limits. I watched your interview with Cryptopunks and you were talking about how you’re  really coming out of your shell and facing your fears. That in itself is truly inspiring and motivating. Me and you, we have talks about me stepping outside of music and branching off and trying new things, and you don’t know you’re good at something until you give it a try. You just motivate me so much.

ABNEY: That means a lot.

WHACK: Always, always love.

ABNEY: What else you got?

WHACK: Yo, so I just had some basic questions for you, ’cause like I said, I’m your friend and I can just call you and ask you what you’re doing, but I feel like people want to know these things. So what’s brainstorming look like for you? Is it just you? Do you go hang out? Do you actually sit down and have a pen and paper? 

ABNEY: I think it’s at random. I’ll just have a notebook where I might think of a random idea and I save it until it’s the right time or I have the resources to do it. There’s ideas that I haven’t done yet that I’m just waiting for the right moment to do.

WHACK: Yeah. It’s all about timing. Okay, how important is it to tell the truth as an artist?

ABNEY: I guess, the truth about what?

WHACK: About what’s going on out in the outside world, your life being affected. 

ABNEY: I feel like an artist should be able to do whatever they want to do. But for me, that’s just the path that I’ve chosen to zero in on, social issues. But I don’t think for every artist, it needs to be a responsibility.

WHACK: Right, right, right. I guess there’s truth in all of it, though. I didn’t expect that answer, but I like it. 

ABNEY: What did you think I would say?

WHACK: I thought you were going to… Because when I look at your work, I always see it as a direct reflection of you, and you just tell the truth. I feel like each piece has its own story and I don’t know–

ABNEY: What would the work look like that was a lie?

Nina Chanel Abney

Installation view, Nina Chanel Abney, LIE DOGGO, 2024. The School | Jack Shainman Gallery, 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY. Artwork © Nina Chanel Abney. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Dan Bradica Studio.

WHACK: That’s a good point. I’m just saying, it’s always coming from a personal experience. I mean, you have to feel moved by something in order to sit down and say, “Hey, I’m going to create something based off of this.” I feel like you’ve always been really out there and you don’t hold back.

ABNEY: I just try to be authentic.

WHACK: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. What’s your morning routine when you wake up?

ABNEY: Okay. Let’s see. I get up maybe around 7.

WHACK: Ooh, that’s early.

ABNEY: I work out for a little bit. I may or may not cook breakfast, then…

WHACK: You like pancakes or waffles?

ABNEY: Waffles. But I’ll eat pancakes.

WHACK: Is French toast in there?

ABNEY: I’ll eat French toast, yeah.

WHACK: But what’s your favorite though? Waffles?

ABNEY: Yeah, like a Belgian.

WHACK: Waffles is top. Wait, so you said, you wake up, you work out maybe–If you don’t eat breakfast, what do you do? You skip breakfast sometimes?

ABNEY: Yeah, I skip.

WHACK: Damn. They say it’s the most important meal of the day, though.

ABNEY: I get right into work, pretty much.

WHACK: Got you. Did you ever feel that you would be where you are now? Are you surprised sometimes at all the amazing things you’ve done? 

Nina Chanel Abney

Installation view, Nina Chanel Abney, LIE DOGGO, 2024. The School | Jack Shainman Gallery, 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY. Artwork © Nina Chanel Abney. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Dan Bradica Studio.

ABNEY: Yeah, I definitely feel a little disconnected from it. From the South suburbs of Chicago looking at artists, but not knowing it could be like this. 

WHACK: Yeah. When I saw you on opening day, you just had this glow. You were so bubbly, you were smiling and laughing and it was just amazing to see. How are you feeling now that it is finished? ‘Cause I know you were stressed throughout the whole process. 

ABNEY: I do feel relieved. But I kind of have to jump right back into work again. 

WHACK: Yeah, that’s how it goes, right?

ABNEY: Am I asking you questions, or no? I want to ask you about how you deal with internet trolls, since I’m dealing with that now.

WHACK: Yo, I don’t deal with them. That’s a simple answer. I don’t even ever really see them. And if I do see them, I’m like… Somebody just tweeted the other day something like, “Yo, Chief Keef could have left Whack off that “Banded Up” song.” But the person tagged me, so I replied and said, “Yo, tagging me is hilarious.” And I put all these laughing faces. But people have so much hate in their hearts. I’ve never been that person. If I don’t like something, I just keep it to myself or of course, I talk trash amongst my friends. That’s what we all do. But I’m never going to go up and post. Everybody has a voice, but that’s social media. But if you’re not somebody I love, my friends, my family, then it doesn’t really affect me. Why would I let a stranger ruin my day or make me not like myself? 

ABNEY: Yeah, for me too. 

WHACK: You can’t take it personally. You know all the hard work you’ve put in. We got to take the good with the bad. It would be weird if everything was positive and it was nothing but good feedback. Those people, they don’t matter. You matter, girl.

ABNEY: We should do a workday swap where we follow each other around for work.

WHACK: Yo, I would love that. You should just come hang with me on one of my busy workdays. 

ABNEY: You have to paint or do some stuff. We got to swap. 

WHACK: Okay, so I paint and then you get in the booth. Let’s go. 

ABNEY: Yeah, that’d be fire. 

WHACK: Yo, Nina with the bars. I would listen. The play on words, you got it already. We get you some hot beats, and you can do it. I can help you put a little bit together, if you need a little help, though. You know I got you.

ABNEY: But you be telling everybody now, you weren’t supposed to say anything.

WHACK: No, no, no. I would just be standing beside you, nodding and ad libs and stuff like that. No ghost writing.

ABNEY: Yeah. No ghost writing. Wink, wink.

WHACK: No, this interview is about you, though. I mean, we talk so much, so it’s kind of hard to make it translate.

ABNEY: Ask me questions you think no one’s asked me ever.

WHACK: Yo, so they’re like dumb questions. Like, “Yo, what’s your favorite meal?” I want to know though, what’s the last meal you had that was like, “Oh, this is good.” 

ABNEY: The meals have been very, very bootleg, I must admit over the last three months because I’ve been so busy and I’ve been working like 20 hours a day.

WHACK: You haven’t had a good meal? [Laughs] Yo. Wait, wait, wait. We’re jumping all over the place. So you went to the Liberty game. Was that yesterday or the day before? 

ABNEY: Yesterday, yeah.

WHACK: How was it? Did they win? I haven’t been paying attention.

ABNEY: Lost.

WHACK: You were there and they lost? We got to go together. 

ABNEY: I’m a fan of Angel Reese, so they were playing Chicago Sky.

WHACK: Oh, they were playing Chicago. Yes, I got to see her play too, so they killed. Either way, I’m always rooting for both teams. I just love seeing the women play.

ABNEY: Yeah, me too.

WHACK: We definitely got to go to a game soon, asap. What’s the last movie you watched?

Nina Chanel Abney

Installation view, Nina Chanel Abney, LIE DOGGO, 2024. The School | Jack Shainman Gallery, 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY. Artwork © Nina Chanel Abney. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Dan Bradica Studio.

ABNEY: Damn, it’s been a minute.

WHACK: You don’t have time to watch TV because you’re so busy and you’re Nina Chanel.

ABNEY: No, I do watch TV—I just finished a Gerard Michaels show.

WHACK: Is it good? You liked it? Well, you got to say it’s good because we’re on camera.

ABNEY: I truly enjoyed it. 

WHACK: Okay, cool. What’s your favorite animal?

ABNEY: I like dogs. Do they count?

WHACK: No. [Laughs] Give me something exotic. Not a dog.

ABNEY:  I’d say an elephant.

WHACK: I love elephants. Did you hear about that elephant? This lady, she killed his family, and then he came to her funeral. Did you hear about that? That was crazy. How did he get the location of the funeral? He pulled up and he did what needed to be done because she shouldn’t have killed this family.

ABNEY: Someone gave him a tip. 

WHACK: Yeah, for sure. It’s not funny, but I mean, she shouldn’t have killed this family. People should leave animals alone. I love animals. Favorite place you’ve traveled to?

ABNEY: I think it would be either Iceland-

WHACK: Iceland?


WHACK: What was special about Iceland?

ABNEY: I like to go on trips for nature, so it was just such a beautiful place. And then driving to Grand Canyon was one of my–

WHACK: Oh, when was that? 

ABNEY: That was at least five or six years ago. And then Jo-burg. That was cool too.

WHACK: I’ve never been there either. Damn. Do you have a place you want to go that you haven’t been?

ABNEY: Yeah, Japan.

WHACK: Ooh. See, I would’ve thought you’ve been. Now, I’ve been to Japan and I would live in Japan. I love Japan so much. You should go. I feel like you would get so much inspiration from going there. Okay, if you were stranded in the wild, what are the three essentials that you would need in the jungle. 

ABNEY: Wait, I’m trying to get out, I’m lost or what?

WHACK: You got to be there for two weeks and survive.

Nina Chanel Abney

Installation view, Nina Chanel Abney, LIE DOGGO, 2024. The School | Jack Shainman Gallery, 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY. Artwork © Nina Chanel Abney. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Dan Bradica Studio.

ABNEY: Dang, two weeks?

WHACK: Yep. You know what? I’ll give you five things because I like you and you’re a nice person. 

ABNEY: Well, some kind of cell phone that never loses power with internet connections, so someone can find me.

WHACK: Okay. What else?

ABNEY: I’m like, what could I eat that’s going to… You know what, a pill that will make me not taste anything, so if I got to eat something crazy to survive, I don’t taste it.

WHACK: You’re thinking of everything. What else? 

ABNEY: I don’t know. I’m not going to survive. It’s going to be a problem.

WHACK: If you had two weeks, what day are you tapping out? What day are you done?

ABNEY: I mean, I’ll probably get eaten by a lion or something.

WHACK: Give yourself more credit. 

ABNEY: I don’t like bugs. I don’t like mosquitoes. I’m probably tapping out day three.

WHACK: Is there anything else that’s been on your mind that you want to speak on?

ABNEY: I don’t know. Maybe another reason the show felt really special for me is because I stayed true to myself and navigated my feelings around what’s happening in the world in a way where I didn’t feel censored. I know it’s a very sensitive time right now for a lot of creatives, feeling like they can’t vocalize how they’re feeling about anything right now, so it felt good for me to stay true to myself.

WHACK: That’s what I’m saying, the truth. 

ABNEY: And for other artists who maybe are hesitant to just say, “Fuck it.”

WHACK: Say, “Fuck it.” Yeah.

ABNEY: And art is maybe that area that allows us to bend the rules a bit more and navigate things that others can’t.

WHACK: Exactly. That’s what I was talking about. That’s what I needed to hear you say. There it is. Badass. The best in the world.

WHACK: I appreciate you. Thank you, Interview. Yay, Nina Chanel.

ABNEY: I’ll see you, Tierra.