‘Art Boyz’ a London-based art collective creating a safe space for creativity and vulnerability.
Art Boyz is a collective of young creatives made up of good friends Anayo Nkwocha, Yvonne Shelling & Amardeep Sura. Chelsea Mtada speaks to them about being inspired, safe spaces in creative world and the importance of friendship.
“Art Boyz is the three of us coming together,” says Amar, fashion designer, all round creative and proud member of the Art Boyz collective. Alongside him are his friends and “brothers in arms”, Anayo and YV Shells. In the comfort of GUAP Studios, I sit with the three gentlemen in the low lit podcast studio. The three sit together comfortably, and I watch as they laugh and joke with one another to possibly ease the nerves of an interview that aims to uncover some of the truths behind the art collective.
Early on in our discussion, Amar admits, “the funny thing is that it was a bit trolly-y at the beginning when we were calling ourselves Art Boyz.” He explains, “We were just having fun, but then everything flowed so naturally, and ideas came very easy.” This comes as no surprise, coming from the young artist who, over the years, has found himself in the hallowed designing studios of Alexander McQueen and Ozwald Boateng. As well as starting his own fashion label; Shift Zero, and most recently being appointed as a Creative Director for the luxury street-wear brand, clothsurgeon.
YV Shells is an artist, filmmaker, musician and performer (according to his sold-out shows at Shoreditch House and Nottinghill Arts Club). YV is as captivating off the stage as he is on. His love of authentic self-expression has made him a lover of all artistic pursuits and inspired by everything from literature, art and the community that surrounds him. YV says, “I think being able to work on different art forms inspires me so much. I learn so much about film from doing music and so much about photography from painting. Everything informs everything, and I love to see how it all connects.”
On the other hand, at one point in Anayo’s life, he was convinced that he was going to go down the corporate route. He laughs as he confesses, “if you told me back then that this is what I’d be doing for work right now, I would have never believed you.” It wasn’t until his early to mid-twenties that Anayo decided to become a full-time creative. Empowered by his friendships and his supportive family, he decided to devote himself entirely to his passions for the sake of his happiness and mental health.
Upon reflection, Anayo says, “I used to be a horrible person to be around. I was always stressed out and had a bit of a temper. However, through going to therapy, I realised that there were so many things I enjoyed when I was younger, like rapping, dancing and playing music. So when I finally had the courage to say that creativity is what I wanted to do, my parents were very supportive and knew that it would be much better for me to explore this part of myself.” In finding himself, Anayo’s work in music production and photography has found itself in front of London’s most influential eyes and ears. Through the Art Boyz collective, he has found himself a safe space that is encouraging, uplifting and inspiring.
There has been no end to the creativity shared by the Art Boyz and they will soon enough become a huge part of young British creative culture today. Working mostly behind the scenes in their respective fields, Amar, Anayo and YV continue to grow a network that empowers themselves and the artists surrounding them. We had the opportunity to spend the day with the collective and ask them a few questions about their beginnings and the beauty of being a collective.
Who are the Art Boyz?
Amar: I’m Amar, I’m a fashion designer, creative director, artist, stylist, musician, i’m a renaissance man. That’s me!
Anayo: I’m Anayo, I am a rapper, producer and artist. Just a guy trying to survive in this planet.
YV: I’m YV, I’m an artist, a filmmaker and a musician. These are my pronouns.
What are the Art Boyz?
Amar: Art boys is the three of us coming together.
YV: Art Boyz is a cloud. Like the way, a cloud is a collection of water. Art Boyz is a collection of ideas and ideals that we want to achieve. And, you know, the idea is that eventually, like a cloud, we rain and that rain is the work we put out.
How did the collective get started?
Amar: It’s actually a funny story; it was actually just a joke. We started a group chat and we all said that we wanted to be yacht boys. For whatever reason, we ran with the idea and figured that what we really needed to do was to create art. So whilst yacht boys are throwing parties and raves. We are Art Boyz; a collective that recognises everyone’s strength as individuals when we come together and help each other.
What was school like?
Anayo: Racist as hell. Super different, super racist, students, teachers, and people walking down the street. I remember getting spat on at the top of buses.
YV: When I was in school, a white boy called me a n**ger. I told the teacher, and the teacher said he was probably joking. That is a true story.
Amar: When I moved to Caterham, which is another part of East London, there was way more racism at the time. I couldn’t walk down the high street without someone shouting at my dad or trying to knock his turban off. As time went on things changed but that side of East was nothing like where i grew up in Forest Gate and East Ham, a real melting pot of cultures. I love where I grew up.
Who or what are your sources of inspiration?
Amar: Sometimes it’s not even people that I look at; it’s my environment. Just being in London gives me so much energy even when I walk around and feel the buzz and see what people are dressed in, their mood and their character. Those kinds of energies really lift me, like if someone drops an album or if these two [YV & Anayo] send me an article or a video. Everything and everyone inspires me and gives me what I need, especially in a city like London.
Anayo: I love things that make me think. My brain goes a million miles an hour, every second and there is so much crap in there. So if there’s something that’s able to cut through and make it stop, it makes me want to know more. I’m also very motivated by thought.
YV: I like to read. I’ve been trying to read a lot of stuff by black authors. One of the books that has had the most impact on me recently, which isn’t actually by a black person, is by a Japanese woman. Her name is Banana Yoshimoto, and the book is her debut novel called ‘Kitchen’. It’s about grief and death and it perfectly explores grief in a way that you know the person writing it has experienced it. If you’ve ever experienced grief and pain, reading this book will make you connect with it so different. It really touched me.
How important is it to you, to have a safe space for men to explore their creativity and vulnerability?
Amar: Creatively it’s massively important to me, I come from a space where the industry will always try and box you in and tell you what you can’t do. Nowadays I wear so many hats that I cant be stopped but years back all anyone wanted to do was stop me and tell me it couldn’t be done. In terms of my vulnerability it’s something that men have not had and some still don’t have. That space to be open, to be honest about how you’re feeling about yourself and the things going on around you. I’m lucky now I have friends I can do that with but in previous years the bottling up of emotions led to outward reactions that looked like I had a death wish. I’m not trying to go back there.
Anayo: I think there’s something incredibly powerful and honest about being vulnerable. We all seem to acknowledge that everyone goes through stuff but it’s still natural to feel like you have to hold it in and hold it all together. Both in art (and in life) it’s very freeing to be able to channel what you’re feeling into something beautiful and, ultimately, grow through it. Personally, I think what’s important is being around those who make you feel fearless; the people who inspire you to keep evolving. When you’re able to turn both your emotions and that feeling of vulnerability into strength, that’s when you’re able to create masterpieces that inspire that same feeling in others. I sincerely believe that is when art is at its best.
YV: I think as men we need to provide space for each other to be vulnerable because in that space we can grow and become better people as well as artists. For me, the best types of art are vulnerable and emotional in some way, allowing the audience to connect with the artist on an emotional level. I’m obsessed with dialogue and communication with the audience and without the space to explore my creativity and vulnerability, I’d be having a long and fruitless internal monologue.
Curls – Photographer – @shotbycurls
M. Natasha Robert – Creative Director – @natasharobertx
Gloria Iyare – Creative Director @g_lo_
Molly Peachey-Pape – Stylist @mollypeacheypape
Evie Kalli – Stylist Assistant @evie_kalli
Amanda Dave – Set Design @amandaxdave
Evie Price – Set Design @evelynprice.art
Chelsea Mtada – Words, Interview & Production @chelseamtada
JK Abuah – Production Assistant
Clothing : Studio Ü (@studiou.uk)
Jewellery : The Winter House (@winterhouse_)
Jewellery: Amanda Dave @amandaxdave