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Hennessy - Nas - Kennedy Yanko

Kennedy Yanko Creates Copper Sculpture for Hennessy and Nas

Kennedy Yanko Collaborates with Hennessy and Nas for Hip-Hop’s Anniversary

Last month, hip-hop celebrated its 50th birthday. From its birth at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx to its takeover on the global stage, the music genre has since created a handful of internationally-renowned stars—including Jay-Z, Kanye West, the late rivals Tupac Shakar and The Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliott, and Nicki Minaj, among others. To mark this iconic milestone, cities throughout the U.S. have celebrated with exhibitions, partnerships, and parties that honor those who make the category a profound listening experience.  

In celebration of hip-hop’s big day, Hennessy invited the legendary rapper and Queens native, Nas, to collaborate on a limited-edition V.S bottle. In the spirit of “never stop, never settle”—Hennessy’s philosophy—Nas paid tribute to the brand and his beloved industry through a bottle design that conveys the meaningful moments of history for both. The bottle’s top is wrapped in gold-colored foil, featuring a letter to hip-hop from Nas that stated: “Dear Hip Hop, Some say you were born 50 years ago when a creative kid with a big sound system threw a back-to-school party that ended up changing the world. Hip Hop, you are the vibration of the people. You never stop, never settle. You are poetry on beats, people talking to the streets. Happy 50th Birthday Hip Hop, the world is yours.”

Hennessy - Nas - Kennedy Yanko Nas, photo by Cassidy Sparrow, courtesy of Hennessy.

Below, a circular seal read “Honoring 50 Years of Hip Hop” and a large square Hennessy label included a portrait of Nas and bits of his poem in a collage. Swirls of cream, orange, and black faded into another image of a New York building, overlaid by scripture that read “By Nas.”

Hennessy Taps Kennedy Yanko

Furthering this partnership was an artistic collaboration with the sculptor, painter, and installation artist Kennedy Yanko. Known for her abstract and surreal work with found metal and dried acrylic—dubbed “paint skins” by the creator—she explores the limitations and opportunities of what we see and experience with our eyes alone. 

Recent large-scale installations have poetically graced many national art spaces, including Tilted Lift at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and No More Drama at the Brooklyn Museum, as well as a solo show at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery entitled “Humming on Life” (March 4–April 22). As a previous Rubell Museum artist-in-residence creator, where she has shown work, Yanko has also collaborated with an array of fashion and lifestyle brands. In 2021, she teamed up with Pyer Moss for its Fall couture fashion show, musician Masego for an NFT collection, and BMW and Nas for an Art Basel presentation in Miami. Last year, her work with Louis Vuitton was seen, exemplified on a limited-edition Artycapucines handbag.

Today, Yanko’s work for Hennessy shines in the form of a one-of-one copper sculpture. Inspired by a trip to Cognac with the brand—as well as the misunderstanding of hip-hop as “outrageous,” argued by politicians in the 1980s and ‘90s—it ripples instead as a preservation of justice with the glorious bends and creases. Last week in Manhattan, it was gifted to Nas as a celebration of his 50th birthday, much like hip-hop’s recent milestone. 

Soon, a selection of 20 mini sculptures based on the musician’s will be unveiled by Yanko, also available to the public through Hennessy. Ahead of the release, a commission for Arkansas State Park, and a solo exhibition named “She is a verb” with Salon 94 in Paris, Whitewall spoke with Yanko about how her piece with Hennessy reflects and honors Nas. 

Hennessy - Nas - Kennedy Yanko Photo by Andrew Arthur, courtesy of Hennessy.

WHITEWALL: Your one-of-a-kind copper artwork for Hennessy honors the origins and birth of hip-hop. How did you approach the creative design to celebrate such a special moment? What details did you know needed to be included? 

KENNEDY YANKO: My work always begins with material. For this project, I decided to work with copper for a few reasons: it was available to me, it wears the mark of time through patina and it is a great conductor of energy with healing properties. In that way, the material is not so different from hip-hop and is perhaps a physical manifestation of its endurance and contributions. My intention was to create something that was elegant, complex, cohesive, and timeless. To honor Nas and his character. 

An Inspiration Trip to Cognac with Hennessy

WW: Hennessy took you to Cognac to understand its distilling process and its dedication to craftsmanship. How did that influence how this was made?

KY: While I was there, I saw the copper-banded barrels that store the cognac and it immediately clicked. Copper would be the centerpiece of this sculpture. It’s an incredibly malleable and generous material. It will bend and fold, crush, and reshape without much force. Getting the color of the paint skin right, however, was a longer more discerning practice. It involved lots of stillness, looking, patience, and allowing. I think the waiting that went into this sculpture was the most intensive aspect of its making. 

WW: The sculpture’s meaning channels the misunderstanding that hip-hop was, as politicians in the 1980s and ’90s said, “revolting and outrageous.” How so? How were you thinking about this when approaching the work? Are there specific details that reflect this? 

KY: Pointing back to the materiality of the piece, the metal and paint skin pokes at our perception and points out our misunderstandings. The metal looks heavy and solid but is often flexible and buoyant, and no one knows how to encounter the paint skin—but that’s what makes it all the more appealing. In this way, the work speaks to our conditioning and asks us to look again and engage with what we don’t immediately recognize. 

Hennessy - Nas - Kennedy Yanko Kennedy Yanko, photo by Andrew Arthur, courtesy of Hennessy.

Kennedy Yanko’s Work with Metal and Paint Skins

WW: You’re known for your work with metal and paint skins, and using reclaimed materials. Why is metal a material you’ve continued to work with? And reclaimed materials? 

KY: I spent over a decade working with paint to understand paint as a structural material and now I’ve been working in metal for about six years. I’m really just at the beginning of understanding it, but I’ve already come to know its profound possibilities and complexities. It takes so many different forms and has the ability to transform into our visions; we build our entire lives out of it. Phones, cars, dinner tables. Metal has shown me its potential, and my potential. 

WW: The sculpture will be gifted to Nas. How does it feel to know he’ll own this work? What does that mean to you? 

KY: This work will live amongst one of the true greats of our time. Hopefully, it serves Nas as a reminder of what he’s achieved and offers him the space to reflect. If he lets himself travel within the piece, I hope it’s a source of discovery. He’s reached 50 years of hip-hop, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. 

Hennessy - Nas - Kennedy Yanko Photo by Andrew Arthur, courtesy of Hennessy.

Kennedy Yanko’s Tribute to Nas

WW: Do you have any favorite Nas songs or moments that helped shape your love of hip-hop? 

KY: “The World Is Yours” is amazing, and such an early representation of what Nas would go on to do. 

But my favorite Nas moment is his full existence. Nas has not just created an institution around his work and practice but has opened spaces to include other artists. That’s really the greatest gift you can give the world. 

WW: What’s next?

KY: I’m opening “She is a verb” next month in Paris with Salon 94 at a surprise location. Later in October my outdoor sculpture, Crystalized Tears, will debut at Arkansas State Park. Big thanks to Dylan and Christie Turk for making that possible!

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